04/24/2013, 00.00
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The EU opens to Myanmar, Naypyidaw frees 56 activists. Catholic Leaders: Not enough

by Francis Khoo Thwe
The Burmese government has ordered the release of more than 50 political prisoners in response to the European Parliament's decision to lift economic and trade sanctions on Myanmar. The ban on arms sales remains. Kachin activist criticizes the move by Brussels, because "there is still no real desire for change."

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Burmese government has ordered the release of at least 56 political prisoners, following the EU's decision to remove all economic, commercial and individual sanctions on Myanmar, while confirming, however, the embargo on the sale of weapons. The confirmation of the release of detainees comes from one of them: the activist Zaw Moe, who explains that Naypyidaw's decision is bound to the vote in Brussels, which opens the doors of the former Burma to European investors. According to other commentators, however, the release is linked to the celebrations for the Burmese New Year, in recent days across the country.

At the same time the government of the reformist president Thein Sein, who came to power in March 2011 after decades of military dictatorship, announced the intention of furthering the school teaching of the languages ​​of ethnic minorities. Now thousands of students in government institutions will be able to learn their native language as a second language in the context of the normal school curriculum. So far the directives of the Ministry considered English as a second national language.

Human rights activists and international organizations have welcomed the recent release of prisoners, which follows similar measures already taken in the past and for which Napypyidaw had created a special commission, called to investigate each case. However, as pointed out by Bo Kyi from Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) "more than 200 other political prisoners are still being held in Burmese prisons." They must be "released without conditions" and among these there are also 40 former Shan rebels, jailed on charges of drug trafficking.

Among the critics there is also that of the Catholic activist Khon Ja Labang, a former member of the Kachin Peace Network movement, engaged in peace building in the ethnic conflict areas, according to whom "the European Union should not have removed the sanctions." The ethnic Kachin activist told AsiaNews that "political pressure is still necessary ", since there are no unanimous positions even on the question of citizenship. "Aung San Suu Kyi - he says - spoke of the 1982 revision of the law, but the Ministry of Immigration has stated that there is nothing wrong with the law." For the activist is clear that "there is no real desire for change."

Among minorities hardest hit are the Rohingya, a Muslim minority concentrated in the western state of Rakhine, plagued since last June by ethnic and sectarian violence with the Buddhist majority that has caused hundreds of deaths. In recent days, a report by New York based activists, Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced a "campaign of ethnic cleansing" against Muslims, witnessed by "evidence of mass graves, forced expropriation and expulsion of entire communities." The protagonists of the violence are government officials, local leaders, Buddhist monks, with the support of the State security forces, impotent - or even implicit - in the anti-Islamic attacks, as shown in a video shot by the police (and published by the BBC) in the town of Meiktila, which was also the scene of violence between Buddhists and Muslims.

The violence against Muslims, clarifies the Catholic activist Khon Ja, doesn't just target "the Rohingya, but various factions of the Muslim minority in Burma." To initiate a "political solution" to the problem, you should first of all "launch thorough investigations to find out who is behind the violence, arresting all the monks and the people who are fanning the flames to feed these ethnic and confessional clashes. An initiative that the Bamar - the main and most common ethnic group in Myanmar, ed - needs to take first and foremost".


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