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Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK
Burma 'must free political prisoners'
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi says she is ready for talks
Burmese opposition groups have called on the ruling military junta to begin political dialogue and release all political prisoners.

The call came as the opposition marked the 14th anniversary of the start of the pro-democracy movement on 8 August 1988. The army eventually crushed the movement, killing hundreds.

On Wednesday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued a new plea for international pressure on Burma's military rulers to release more than 1,000 dissidents still held in jail.

Aung San Suu Kyi was herself freed from 19 months of house arrest in May and is now using the detention of political prisoners as a measure for Burma's progress.


The release of political prisoners is the most important thing for all those who truly wish to bring about change in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi

The Nobel peace laureate issued a video statement insisting that the military rulers of Burma release all dissidents quickly or the country would fail to bring about democracy.

In a separate interview, Aung San Suu Kyi told the BBC she hoped to begin talks with members of the ruling junta "within weeks" and the UN Burma envoy said hostility between the two sides was being reduced.

In the video, made in Burma's capital Rangoon on an unspecified date, Aung San Suu Kyi said: "The release of political prisoners is the most important thing for all those who truly wish to bring about change in Burma."

Poster of Aung San Suu Kyi on a fence
Aung San Suu Kyi wants freedoms she now has extended to all dissidents
The message, released by the Alt-Asean human rights group, continued: "We would like to call upon everybody who cares for the future of Burma to support the request, the demand for the release of all political prisoners, speedily and unconditionally.

"Unless political organisations are free to go about their work unhindered and unintimidated by the authorities, we can never say that we have started the process toward democracy."

Piecemeal releases

Aung San Suu Kyi said many detainees had been locked up because of their political affiliations, but had been charged with non-political crimes.

The military began piecemeal prisoner releases from October 2000 after it entered into closed-door reconciliation talks with the opposition.

Around 300 dissidents have been released, but 1,000 are still imprisoned and initial gestures of goodwill have yet to become substantive talks between the two sides.

Aung San Suu Kyi told the BBC she was concerned about the slow progress but was ready to talk and would rule nothing out, including a temporary power-sharing agreement with the generals.

UN envoy Razali Ismail
Mr Razali said differences had narrowed

"I keep my mind quite open. I don't have anything fixed in my own mind as to whether I would share or not share. We are not going to go into this dialogue with pre-conceived ideas."

Her statement came after the UN envoy, Razali Ismail, said he was confident he had narrowed the differences between the military and opposition.

He said Aung San Suu Kyi might soon be allowed to travel to neighbouring countries and be permitted to return to Burma, an option long denied her.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party won national elections in 1989, but she was never allowed to assume power after the junta brutally suppressed the pro-democracy protests.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Matt Prodger
"Human rights groups say there are still more than a thousand political activists in Burmese jails"
Aung San Suu Kyi
"We have been very worried about the delays..."

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05 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
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