(VOA) 26 September 2008 - The military junta that rules Burma has released its longest-serving political prisoner, journalist U Win Tin after 19 years in jail. The United States welcomes the news and urges the government there to free all prisoners of conscience and begin a dialogue with pro-democracy and ethnic minority leaders to begin the work of rebuilding the country.
Burmese state news media said that Win Tin's release, and that of about 9,000 other prisoners, was granted to allow them to take part in voting in the general election, scheduled for 2010.
It would be the country's first election since the National League of Democracy won the vote overwhelmingly in 1990, the results of which the ruling junta has never honored. The party’s leader and Burma’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years. She was not granted freedom by this latest amnesty.
Win Tin was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to a long term for agitating against the military government and allegedly writing anti-government propaganda. His release is a positive development and long overdue. Showing that he lost none of the crusading spirit that got him in trouble with authorities in the first place, he said soon after leaving jail, "I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country."
An estimated 2,100 other political prisoners languish in Burmese jails and the regime continues to imprison those with differing political views. Authorities recently arrested Nilar Thein who has been hiding since the crackdown on democracy demonstrations last year.
It is hoped that if authorities are setting the stage for a fair national election in two years, these political prisoners be released as part of the process too. The U.S. urges that Aung San Suu Kyi and all others be freed and that the government move the country down the path toward genuine democracy.