08/02/2013, 00.00
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Burmese Dissident: no reforms or democracy with military (still) in government

by Francis Khoo Thwe
In a ceremony in memory of the victims of the prison of Great Coco Island, the former political prisoner Hla Nyo denounces “no real change in the country." He criticizes the president who talks about democracy, while continuing "detentions" and abuse. Ne Win, co-founder of the NLD, who spent more than 20 years in prison: "With the military in power, opponents still tortured in prison."

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The people of Burma "have yet to see real changes" in the government, in spite of "attempts at reform," they are still under "the tight control of a military circle." So says Hla Nyo, a former political prisoner, who survived the harsh prison conditions of the penitentiary at Great Coco Island, the notorious penal colony off the coast of Myanmar. The dissident spoke at a ceremony which was held on July 31 in Yangon to commemorate all of the prisoners who died in the former maximum security prison. In his speech he did not spare criticism of the current administration of President Thein Sein who speaks of "democracy for the people" while "land confiscations" continue. At present he is asking people to be united not forget the political prisoners who "have suffered and died in Burmese prisons."

For nearly 50 years, Myanmar has been ruled by a military dictatorship, which ended in 2011 with the transfer of power to a semi-civillian government, chaired by the Head of State Thein Sein - former Prime Minister of the junta - with 25% of seats in Parliament reserved the army. The presence of army figures is significant considering that to change the Constitution - enacted under the regime of General Than Shwe in 2008, in an emergency for cyclone Nargis - a two-thirds majority of the Lower House is required.

Win Tin, co-founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, spent 20 years in Burmese prisons, until his release in 2008. Today 83 years old, the elderly activist continues to wear the blue uniform, characteristic of Burmese prisons "in solidarity" with those who are still behind bars. He wrote a book about his years of prison and the torture inflicted on those who have fought for the freedom of thought. "As long as there is a military system to lead the country - he said during the ceremony - a system of torture of prisoners will always remain active."

The prison of Great Coco Island, built by the dictator Ne Win in 1959 to imprison opponents (up to a maximum of 230), closed its doors in 1971 following a series of hunger strikes, organized in protest against the harsh conditions of detention. The prisoners were transferred to the equally notorious Insein Prison, on the outskirts of Yangon, where many opponent activists are still held. A hundred people the ceremony in memory of the victims attended, some of them linked to the prisoners who starved to death in the prison of Great Coco Island at the time of the revolt. They recount how prison directors were ordered to burn the bodies, in particular "the prisoners who died during the first hunger strike." After three mass protests between 1969 and 1971, with the death of eight of them during the third protest, authorities have ordered the closure of the penal colony from December 1971.


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