MYITKYINA, Kachin State—The government will release ethnic Kachin detainees who were arrested under the Unlawful Association Act, including Brang Shawng, a top official said on Friday.
Minister Aung Min, the government’s top peace negotiator with ethnic rebels, said the government would remove the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) from its list of unlawful associations, and that the detainees would subsequently be freed.
The minister from the President’s Office made the pledge during talks with internally displaced persons in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, in response to a question about Brang Shawng, a Kachin farmer whose arrest has been was criticized by activists and Kachin residents.
“Before, when the KIO and the KIA [Kachin Independence Army] were declared as unlawful associations, he was arrested for communicating with it [the KIO],” the minister said of Brang Shawng, while speaking at the Janmai Kaung Baptist camp for IDPs on Friday, after government peace negotiations with the KIO earlier this week. “But now that we have established peace with the KIO and KIA, the group must be removed from the declaration. If so, those arrested under the Unlawful Association Act, including Brang Shawng, will be automatically released.”
Brang Shawng, who lived in Janmai Kaung camp before his arrest, was accused of communicating with the KIO and arrested in June last year. His case was heard in court this week on Thursday but a final verdict has not yet been reached.
“Whether he is sentenced to prison or not, I will release him within a week,” Aung Min told the Kachin IDPs.
But the minister added, “I cannot take him now from the court. We have to wait until the court hearing is finished.”
“It would have been easy for me to take him out immediately if we were still under the military regime, but not under the current democratic system,” he said.
Aung Myat, an IDP from the camp, told The Irrawaddy that he wanted “authorities to solve the problem in a way that is just.”
In Kachin State, 76 people have been accused of violating the Unlawful Association Act, with 16 cases still proceeding.
The highly criticized act was used by the former military regime to detain dissidents who communicated with exile organizations and ethnic rebel groups.
The law has come into question after Burma’s nominally civilian government signed ceasefire agreements with most major ethnic armed groups, with critics saying the law threatened to invalidate the government’s peace process and communication with those groups.
The pledge to release detainees in Kachin comes after peace talks this week between the government and the KIO, who on Thursday signed a preliminary agreement that would reduce military tension and lead to further progress toward reaching a ceasefire.
The KIO’s armed group, the KIA, has been fighting a war against the government’s army since a ceasefire between both sides broke down in 2011.
Kachin lawmaker Doi Bu said the participants in this week’s peace talks discussed the release of those arrested under the Unlawful Association Act.
“We asked them to declare the removal of all the ethnic armed groups from unlawful group,” she said, adding that the possible date for the release would depend on the government.