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Cablegate: Regime Releases Salai Tun Than, 20 Other Political

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS RANGOON 000539

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV
USPACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM BM
SUBJECT: REGIME RELEASES SALAI TUN THAN, 20 OTHER POLITICAL
PRISONERS

1. (U) In a May 4 press release, the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC) announced the release of 21
political prisoners. Dr. Salai Tun Than, a well-respected
academic who was arrested for staging a one-man political
demonstration in 2001 was among those released. Salai Tun
Than is an alumni of the University of Georgia and, as a
result, has been of particular Congressional and Embassy
interest since his arrest. In fact, COM Martinez raised
Salai Tun Than's case directly with the third-ranking general
in the regime, Secretary One General Khin Nyunt, in a meeting
on April 27. This appears to be what triggered his release.
Poloff met with Salai Tun Than and two of his daughters
(including Yuzana, with whom Poloff has met previously) on
May 5 and found him tired but well and extremely happy to be
out of prison. Salai Tun Than said authorities made a
special point of telling him that his release was not the
result of any external pressure. He told Poloff, however,
that in his opinion prisoner releases would only occur as a
direct result of pressure.

2. (U) The professor also reported that he had been required
to sign a "Section 401" agreement, which obligated him to
serve the remaining balance of his sentence if he is taken
into custody again. He said he was a little nervous about
how the authorities might react to a meeting with Poloff but
he was taking the chance because he has had contacts with the
Embassy in the past. He said he plans to return to his
earlier activities as much as possible (advocating
agricultural reforms for Chin farmers), hoping that if he is
"transparent" in his activities, authorities will have no
grounds to rearrest him.

3. (U) Regarding his recent hunger strike, Dr. Tun Than said
prison authorities quickly acceded to most of his demands (no
hoods on political prisoners, permission to possess a Bible,
a clock in the ward of political prisoners at the prison
hospital) so he called off the strike after just two days.
He said just prior to the hunger strike on April 27, prison
authorities had begun questioning him about the activities he
might undertake if he were released. The professor now
realizes that authorities were already considering whether to
release him at that time. He said he told the authorities he
planned to thank the NLD's Aung San Suu Kyi for her party's
support for his family during his incarceration. The
authorities told him this was not a wise thing and he said he
agreed that he would not do it if he were a "normal" citizen,
but he had a special situation and would want to pay his
respects. He said the authorities finally relented when he
invited them along to visit the NLD, but cautioned him to not
discuss politics.


4. (U) Among the other political prisoners released, there
were 12 NLD members, including two who are well-known in the
organization. Win Thein was a young student who provided
security for Aung San Suu Kyi in the early days of the party.
He was arrested in 1989 and is now 36 years old. Ms. Kyi
Kyi Win is an NLD member from a Rangoon suburb who has been
jailed since 1998 because of activism on behalf of the party
in all parts of the country. NLD Vice Chairman U Tin Oo told
Poloff, "she used to give Military Intelligence fits!" The
NLD was pleased to have the releases but noted that there are
many more cases of old, and infirm political prisoners, many
of whom have been in prison well past their original
sentences.
Martinez

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