Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday, November 8 that the biggest political change in Burma is the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in May this year.
However, he noted, the Burmese government is very much worried about any unrest that they try to control everything so tightly that they do very strange things.
He said, “The printer of the computer that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has … she was obliged to ask for license permit for six months. I told her that this must be the only printer in the world to have license to operate. It’s ridiculous!”
On Burma’s economy, Mr. Pinheiro noted, “The economic situation is very weak. You have a terrible inflation. You have armed conflict in the border and for the people there life is much more difficult than in the cities.” He gave an example of the monthly salaries of a policeman as $2 and of a judge as $5.
On the contacts between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese military leaders, he said, “There’s no dialogue at present. The contact is they talk to each other. They discussed logistics of where she is going or if they have any problems but what the NLD told me, there’s no negotiation, no road maps of what is the next step. There’s no structured, substantial political negotiation.”
Basically he said, “The meetings are with General Than Tun. The military told me and she didn’t contest … she had three meetings during the last two years with Senior General Than Shwe.”
On the slow pace of release of political prisoners, Mr. Pinheiro said since January 2001, 435 political prisoners were released and since May another 155 were set free, leaving about 1,450 political prisoners left.
When asked about the latest sentencing of Ko Thet Naung Soe, a law student for his solo peaceful protest in Rangoon, Mr. Pinheiro reacted with surprise to learn of the 14-year sentence.
He said, “My team met with him. I have expressed to the government that it’s absurd to give this kind of sentence. The people were following the statement made by SPDC on 6th. May to have active participation. Next week, I’m sending a letter to SPDC to express my bewilderness concerning this sentence.”
He said, “I have met several former students that have been in prison for 14 years! Even 5 years in prison is devastating! 14 years in prison with out being able to read and write .. that’s absurd!"
On the government’s tight control, he said, “They are very much worried about unrest. They want to control everything. But in fact the repressive intelligence apparatus is so powerful even if they release all the 1400… they’ll still be able to control all these people without a big problem. Why do they want to keep these people in prison?”
On human rights abuses in Burma, including the License to Rape Report, he said, “What is important for me is to convince the government they are supposed to control the behavior of the armed forces. I’m trying not to concentrate only on rape. There are many others… summary executions, forced conscription, porterage, forced relocation. I will not limit a region or a set of violation. My intention is to assess on my own, inside Burma in border areas, in Bangladesh and Thailand.”