RANGOON—Leaders of a prominent armed group have called on Burma’s nominally civilian government to unconditionally release all remaining political prisoners, including their comrades.
“To build trust with opposition groups and to go forward with the peace and reconciliation process, it’s important to release political prisoners,” Than Kae, a spokesman for the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) told reporters in Rangoon on Thursday.
Than Kae said that after submitting a list of political prisoners to government officials during earlier peace negotiations, 10 prisoners were released.
“However, 24 of us remain in the prisons, with over 80 years of prison sentences,” he said. “And there are many people from different opposition groups and armed groups who aren’t even named as political prisoners [but are in jail].”
Nine ABSDF representatives are on a two-week visit to Burma which will also include a stop in the capital, Naypyidaw.
In Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city, the delegation met with Tin Oo, a patron of opposition leader of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, along with ethnic Shan, Arakan and Mon leaders from the United Nationalities Alliance.
The delegation also met with activists from the 88 Generation Students group.
“We will work together for development and reform in the country,” Than Kae said.
ABSDF was formed in November 1988, shortly after a series of national pro-democracy demonstrations, when student activists fled to border areas to fight against the military regime.
The group continued to oppose the country’s former military dictators for two decades, and its members today are based on both sides of the borders with Thailand, India and China.
The ABSDF delegation in Rangoon said their trip to Burma was the result of a meeting in November with the government’s chief peace negotiator, Minister Aung Min of the President’s Office, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The group said their participation in the peace talks showed they were willing to have political conversations rather than resorting to armed conflict.
“While there’s a civil war in Kachin State, we are here talking for peace,” said Than Kae, referring to the conflict between ethnic minority rebels and the government army in Burma’s northernmost state. Some ABSDF members have allied with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) there.
“The country is in a very difficult situation,” Than Kae added. “We just want to have a nationwide ceasefire and peace, but for that we cannot work alone. The most responsible party is the government itself.”
President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government has signed ceasefire agreements with more than 10 ethnic rebel groups and continues to hold peace talks with them.
However, clashes continue with some armed groups, especially in Kachin State, where fighting has escalated since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June 2011.