11/24/2004, 00.00
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Myanmar prisoner release falters

The National Constitutional Convention postponed till February.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Military-ruled Myanmar's promised release of nearly 4,000 prisoners appears to be faltering, relatives say, dashing hopes that more political prisoners might be set free. Friends and family of many prisoners of conscience in the former Burma have waited anxiously outside Yangon's notorious Insein prison for news after the junta's shock announcement last week that it would free 3,937 prisoners.

The release of Min Ko Naing, a student leader considered by many to be Myanmar's second most important political prisoner after pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, had raised hopes that other opposition figures might be among those freed. Those hopes are fading rapidly.

"To our surprise, there was no release at all today. We spent the whole day near the outside gate of Insein," said late on Monday Maung Maung Khin, a close friend of Win Tin, a high-profile political prisoner and, formerly, Suu Kyi's closest aide. Families of several other political prisoners hoping for good news said they too had been waiting in vain.

It is unclear how many of the proposed 3,937 releases, which followed October's purge of Prime Minister and military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, have actually been carried out and how many were political prisoners. State media have offered no details.

The family of Than Nyein, a member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) who was imprisoned in 1997 for seven years, said his prison sentence was extended by another two months the day after the releases were announced. "Last Friday, he was remanded for another two months, for the third time since his official sentence expired in July," a family source said.

Suu Kyi herself remains under house arrest at her Yangon lakeside home, without a telephone and requiring military permission to receive visitors.

Yesterday it was announced that the military government will reconvene a national meeting aimed at drafting a new constitution in February next year. The latest date was announced by Lt Gen Thein Sein, a top figure in the junta, and was broadcast by state television. The country's military junta says the conventions are part of their roadmap for democracy.
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