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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 15:22 GMT
Burma junta frees top dissident
Min Ko Naing
Min Ko Naing: Freed from jail aged 42, after 15 years
Burma's military junta has freed a top dissident - second only to Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi - as part of a release of 4,000 prisoners.

Min Ko Naing was 26 when he was jailed for leading 1988 pro-democracy student protests that the military crushed.

His release 15 years later felt like awakening "from dreamland", he said.

The surprise move follows the disbanding of an intelligence unit once run by Khin Nyunt, who was ousted as prime minister last month.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The best hope for Burma is to release all the political prisoners and then start dialogue with all the political fronts
Kyaw Min, Jerusalem, Israel

Up to 30 political prisoners have been freed since the military government announced plans to release 4,000 detainees - most of whom are expected to be from the broader prison population.

State-run media in Burma said those released had been wrongly charged by the National Intelligence Bureau.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has welcomed the releases and asked that all other political detainees also be granted their freedom.

It is thought Burma's jails still hold as many as 1,300 political prisoners.

'Out of touch'

Min Ko Naing - an assumed name meaning Conqueror of Kings - was flown from a jail in western Burma and returned to Rangoon on Friday.

He told the BBC Burmese service he need to reflect before deciding what to do next.

I think this is an expectation and we are looking forward to starting off negotiations for reconciliation
U Lwin, NLD spokesman

"Before I plan anything, I need to study and observe things from different angles. I have been away from society for the past 16 years and so am out of touch. I need to study, ask and listen, before I decide to do something," said Min Ko Naing, whose real name is Paw U Tun.

He told Reuters news agency: "I feel as if I have awoken from dreamland and I've just started to open my eyes."

Min Ko Naing
Min Ko Naing: A 26-year old university student when jailed

Min Ko Naing was arrested in 1989, just after the government had put down the student demonstrations.

At the time of his detention he is said to have had 18 impersonators among his supporters in Rangoon but they were unable to obscure his identity from the authorities, BBC correspondent in Bangkok Kylie Morris says.

He is well known for a public speech he delivered in the capital at the time.

In the speech he said the Burmese had to be "disciplined, united and brave enough to stand up to the dictators" if they wanted "to enjoy the same rights as people in other countries."

Burma has been run by military governments since 1962. The opposition National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in a 1990 election but was not allowed to assume power.

Expectations

The NLD's spokesman U Lwin said Min Ko Naing's release was an "important" gesture, as it could indicate the junta's willingness to engage in political reform.

He said it also increased the likelihood that UN-brokered national reconciliation talks - which were secretly started between Aung San Suu Kyi and the sacked prime minister - would start again.

"I think this is an expectation and we are looking forward to starting off negotiations for reconciliation," U Lwin said.

But he said there was nothing to suggest Aung San Suu Kyi would be released next, echoing the views of diplomats.

The democracy leader has spent nine of the past 15 years in some form of detention under Burma's military regime.

Another significant release would be that of NLD founder, Win Tin, a 74-year-old writer. Reports last Friday that he had been freed were incorrect.




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