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Elderly Burmese Medical Doctor U Saw Mra Aung Released

U Saw Mra Aung, an 83-year old Burmese medical doctor and member of Parliament, was released on June 14, 2001, from a government "guest house" after being held there for more than 2-1/2 years. He was one of 12 political prisoners who were released by the military junta following a visit to Myanmar in early June by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special envoy, Razali Ismail.

The military junta began a high-level dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in October 2000 with the purported goal of achieving "national reconciliation." As a condition for continuing talks, she reportedly has requested that the government begin releasing some of the many opposition members who are imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing their political beliefs and allow the NLD to reopen some of its offices. Thus far this year, the release of Dr. U Saw Mra Aung and other opposition leaders marks the third group of political prisoners freed by the government since January 2001. (A group of 84 members of the National League or Democracy (NLD)--the political party run by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi--were released in January, and 16 more NLD members were released in March.) The government reportedly has also stated that 18 of the NLD’s branch offices will be allowed to reopen.

Dr. U Saw Mra Aung, a high-ranking opposition leader, was one of a large number of opposition party members elected to Parliament in 1990. Eighty-one percent of parliament seats were won by members of NLD. The military government refused to convene parliament and discuss the transfer of power to the NLD. In mid 1998, when the NLD announced that it intended to convene a "people’s parliament," the military government cracked down against opposition members, detaining hundreds of elected representatives of the NLD and other opposition parties, including Dr. U Saw Mra Aung. In mid September, just two weeks after his arrest, the NLD appointed Dr. U. Saw Mra Aung to be head of the People’s Parliament.

Given Dr. U Saw Mra Aung’s advanced age, there was considerable concern for his health during his detention. In an interview shortly after his release, Dr. U Saw Mra Aung said that he did receive necessary medical treatment during his detention and that his conditions of confinement had been tolerable.