09/24/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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"Superficial" concessions from Burmese junta to appease UN

Yesterday, the military junta released Win Tin, a dissident journalist imprisoned for more than 20 years. 9,002 prisoners were freed, but only seven of those imprisoned for thought crimes. Censorship remains in place for the internet and international telephone calls.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The National League for Democracy (NLD) says that it is happy with the liberation of Win Tin, the 79-year-old dissident journalist who has spent the last 20 years in prison. The NLD says that it will continue to fight for the lifting of house arrest for Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the release of another 2,000 political dissidents still held in Burmese prisons.

Yesterday, the military regime released 9,002 prisoners, but only a few of those who have been arrested for thought crimes; the seven activists released include a famous Burmese writer - Aung Soe Myint - and four members of the NLD: Khin Maung Swe, May Win Myint, Win Htein and Than Nyein.

Win Tin (in the photo) is Myanmar's most famous political prisoner: in the past, he directed the influential national newspaper Hanthawaddy, was vice president of the writers' union, and played a leading role in the revolts in 1988, following which he was arrested under the accusation of "anti-government propaganda" and incarcerated in the Insein prison in Yangon. Sources close to the dissident journalist say that he was released "in good health" - although he has suffered heart and prostate problems in the past - and "unconditionally". During his imprisonment, the authorities had repeatedly withheld "adequate medical care" and "the possibility of writing".

According to some Burmese dissidents in exile, his release is to be seen in relation to the UN general assembly taking place in New York, as a signal of "openness" from the military leaders after criticism by the United States and part of the international community over their lack of respect for human rights. Over the past month, the Burmese junta has arrested 39 activists, including Nilar Thein, another representative of "Generation '88" who led demonstrations against the dictatorship and is still in prison.

In order to prevent revolts similar to the ones that took place in September of 2007 (in which monks and demonstrators died in the repressive measures taken by the regime), the ruling junta has increased the censorship of websites, and has blocked communication with the outside world. Since September 18 - the anniversary of the massacre - and for a number of days, the website of Irrawaddy, the newspaper of the opposition in exile, and the news agencies Democratic Voice of Burma and New Era were blocked. To realize the extent of the censorship being exercised by the regime, it's enough to enter the name Aung San Suu Kyi into Google's search engine (that produces about one and a half million results), and then repeat the experiment with the Google search box on the government news website New Light of Myanmar: only six results appear.

Finally, telephone contact with Myanmar is also difficult.

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