Exiles Return a Day after Being Taken off Blacklist

Dr Naing Aung reads from a prepared statement as he is surrounded by Burmese reporters at Rangoon's international airport on Friday, Aug. 31. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Dr Naing Aung reads from a prepared statement as he is surrounded by Burmese reporters at Rangoon’s international airport on Friday, Aug. 31. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

A day after their names appeared in a government list of Burmese nationals who are no longer regarded as threats to national security, a group of high-profile dissidents returned to their homeland on Friday for the first time in more than two decades.

The group of five high-profile activists—Dr Naing Aung, Dr Thaung Htun, Maung Maung, Aung Moe Zaw and Nyo Ohn Myint—are visiting on 28-day visas, and are expected to spend their time in the country meeting with government ministers, opposition leaders and relatives.

A second group of eight former dissidents led by Moe Thee Zun, a student leader who has lived in exile since fleeing a crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in 1988, is expected to arrive at Rangoon’s international airport on Saturday morning.

The return of both groups was facilitated by government peace negotiators, who have been active since last year in negotiations with a host of ethnic and democratic opposition groups as part of the ongoing  reform efforts of President Thein Sein.

“We will continue our discussions from previous informal talks with Naypyidaw’s peace negotiators—former Railways Minister Aung Min and former Industry Minster Soe Thein,” said Dr Thaung Htun, the executive director of the Bangkok-based Institute for Peace and Social Justice in Burma.

A key issue that the returnees hope to discuss is the role of exiled activists in helping to shape nation-building efforts in Burma after decades of conflict. They say they hope to share their skills acquired in exile to help address social and economic challenges facing the country.

Thaung Htun said that the political process in Burma must include all democratic and ethnic forces both inside and outside of the country, as well as the armed forces, so that a lasting peace can prevail in the country.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Moe Thee Zun said he would also seek to ensure that all other exiles are able to return under conditions conducive to the smooth progress of peace efforts.

“We will talk about exiled activists returning home with dignity and without any obstacles when we meet with the government peace negotiators,” he said from Bangkok after arriving from the United States, where he currently resides.

“We had no trouble with our travel arrangements, so it should also be the same with others,” he said.

However, the return of the exiles was not without controversy. In Rangoon, a group of former members of the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) held a press conference about the killing of other members of the group in Kachin State 20 years ago, allegedly under the orders of Dr Naing Aung and other former leaders.

That incident, which has attracted growing attention in the past year on social media sites, has long been a source of anger among former members of the student army and their families, who say that no one has yet been held accountable.

Interest in the case has been especially strong since the publication in June of a book by a man who traveled to the ABSDF’s base in northern Kachin State from February to April 1992 to save his brother from execution after he was accused of spying for the government.

The book alleges that two people—Ronald Aung Naing, the then chairman of the ABSDF-Northern Burma, and Dr Naing Aung—were chiefly responsible for the killing of 15 suspected spies on Feb. 12, 1992, as well as the deaths of 20 others who died while under interrogation.

Naing Aung, who was the chairman of the ABSDF-Southern Burma at the time, has denied the allegations and said that he is ready to cooperate with any inquiry into the incident.

“Any organization or people, including the former MI [military intelligence] led by Khin Nyunt, who had responsibility should be included in the truth-finding process,” Naing Aung told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “We will cooperate fully, but it must not be only one-sided participation.”

Family members of one of the victims filed a lawsuit against those responsible at a township court in Rangoon last week.

If the case goes ahead, said Naing Aung, Burma’s courts should also be prepared to hear charges against members of the the former junta accused of committing human rights abuses. The judiciary should not only hear cases chosen by the administration if Burma is to develop genuine rule of law, he added.


9 Responses to Exiles Return a Day after Being Taken off Blacklist

  1. A great PR victory, and the process of reconciliation (rather selective cooptation) marches on.

    All are very welcome of course but, given the seemingly indecent haste, it makes you wonder what kind of guarantees and inducements these people have been given. The same goes for ethnic groups surely.

    Now spare a thought for those ‘exempt’ groups still in the wilderness outlawed way back when or in more recent times ranging from the lawyers to the communists.

    Is this a paukara wattha moe (selectively patchy showers of goodwill)?

  2. I am so glad that political situations in Burma are improving days by days.

  3. Dr. Naing Aung and the others did not return because their names were removed from the blacklist. They were invited by President Thein Sein and the peace negotiation mission, led by U Aung Min, and the process for their visit took months. Dr. Naing Aung mentioned this in his statement.

  4. A Burmese Freedom Fighter

    First of all, travel restriction on any Burmese is unjust, illogical, and inconsiderate; since Burma is trying to open itself up to catch up with the rest of the world. The decision makers in the current government should question themselves what make Burmese people to live in exile. The commonality is absolutely what decision makers should try to find in Burmese exile to move Burma forward for its democratization.

    We all have to put the cycle of mistrust, revenge, and blame behind us. Current administration has to prove its share of building trust process by lifting its travel restriction placed up on both exiles and activist inside Burma.

    A Burmese Freedom Fighter

  5. I have been keenly interested in this treasonous act for many years.
    Until the case has been thoroughly investigated and the courts have cleared him, Naing Aung should be placed in detention. He can’t make threats like “Burma’s courts should also be prepared to hear charges against members of the former junta” because he is scared of consequences for his criminal deeds.
    The country will decide its judicial course, not the accused murderer of comrades.

    • “Burma’s courts should also be prepared to hear charges against members of the the former junta accused of committing human rights abuse. The judiciary should not only hear cases chosen by the administration if Burma is to develop genuine rule of law.”

      Everything has been chosen by the administration so far unless he was pretending not to realize. They’ve already provided their own kind immunity from prosecution enshrined in the Nargis constitution.

      Still it takes some courage to say what he said, and he was right to say it regardless of its wisdom of the confrontational kind.

  6. The next day? That’s real quick. They must have known in advance before the “de-blacklisting” was officially announced.
    By the way, Kim Aris is also “de-listed”, but he was allowed to visit his mother a few times over the last two years, no?

  7. Who prepared this so-called blacklist? It seems like the person(s) who did not finish Primary School did prepare. I believe Than Shwe himself prepared it.

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