Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category


Mizzima News 

 (Interview) – Thee Lay Thee traditional dance troupe leader comedian Godzilla, and comedians Sein Thee, Zee Thee and dancer Chaw Su Myo returned to Burma this week after four years in exile. Comedian Pan Thee, Kyel Thee and dancer Mya Sabai Ngone have remained in Thailand. Comedian Zarganar formed the popular dance troupe. In 2007, members left Burma after severely criticizing the former Burmese junta in performances inside the country and in foreign countries. Zarganar was arrested in June 2008 while helping Cyclone Nargis victims. He is serving a long prison term in Myitkyina Prison in Kachin State. Before the troupe returned to Burma, Mizzima correspondent Kyaw Kha talked with Godzilla about the decision to return and their future plans.

Comedian Gozilla of the Thee Lay Thee dance troupe surrounded by journalists at Rangoon International Airport  after their return to Burma on Sunday, September 11, 2011. Photo: Mizzima

Comedian Gozilla of the Thee Lay Thee dance troupe surrounded by journalists at Rangoon International Airport after their return to Burma on Sunday, September 11, 2011. Photo: Mizzima

Q: Although President Thein Sein has invited Burmese citizens living abroad to return to Burma, some exiled Burmese think that they should return home only after the government gives exiled people amnesty via an official law or regulation.  What motivated your decision to return now?

A: Some people say that they cannot trust it [the President’s offer] because there has been no written notification. However, the president holds the highest rank in Burma. We trust in the words of the person who has the highest political position. We accepted his speech. If I have to say on behalf of the four people who returned to Burma, we returned because we trust in and respect his speech.

We don’t know whether other people will trust his offer or not. I cannot talk for them. As for us, we trust in the president and his actions. That’s why we decided to return to Burma.

Q: Did you need to do anything special with the government in order to return?

A: There was no give-and-take. The president of the nation invited us back. So, we requested to return to Burma. The government demanded nothing from us. It [the government] did not tell us to do anything.

Q: Comedian Zarganar organized the Thee Lay Thee dance troupe and led the group. How do you think Zarganar, who has been imprisoned, feels about your return?

A: He is in prison, and we don’t have any contact with him so we can only imagine what he may think. He will welcome our return. We reviewed ourselves during our four-year exiled period. Our performances were not as effective as they should have been. When we knew that we could not achieve our aim, we decided to return. We will explain everything to Zarganar when he is released from prison. I believe that Zarganar will accept it.

Q: Thee Lay Thee was disbanded during your leadership. What do you want to say about that?

A: It cannot be said that Thee Lay Thee was disbanded. We are just doing things separately now. Even a relationship among siblings can break down when they disagree with each other. Our case is similar to that.

Q: Some people said that Thee Lay Thee was disbanded because of inequalities in sharing money earned from the performances. How do you respond to that?

A: Rumours can go round with every artist. If someone loves the artist, they will say good things; if they hate, they will speak ill of the artist. When they love a person, they will be blind to their faults. When they hate, even if the person does many good things, they will say unkind words about the person.

Q: All the members of Thee Lay Thee left Burma together. Now, when you are about to return, some members are not returning.

A: They will remain [in a foreign country] because some of them have not finished their artistic work. They have things to do there.

Q: Will you perform in Burma under the name Thee Lay Thee or take a new name?

A: Our main aim in returning is to do our artistic work. Artists can do nothing except work in their art. We will perform traditional dances and make movies and videos in our name.

Q: Earlier, Thee Lay Thee criticized the former Burmese junta in humorous ways not only in Burma but also when you performed in foreign countries.  Burmese people like your jokes. Do you think that you can say similar jokes now when you perform in Burma?

A: I think so. Because we already explained that we were criticizing the weak points of our country [and the authorities] in a constructive way. Our aim to return is to point out the weak points. But, we cannot only talk about the weak points; we have to talk about the good points too. Everyone has both good points and weak points.

The new government is taking steps toward democracy so I believe that it will grant things [freedom of expression] gradually. We wanted to return because we believe that.

Q: If your hopes are dashed because the government does not permit freedom of expression and makes restrictions, what would you do?

A: We don’t think that our hopes will be dashed. We believe that things will happen positively. We hope that the government will grant freedom and the relevant authorities act accordingly. We don’t believe that the government will restrict us [in freedom of expression].


Narinjara News
Maung Rammar reports.
In Pyithu Hluttaw on September 27, U Ba Shin, a Pyithu Hluttaw Representative from Kyauk Pru asked if there is any plan to distribute electricity to Kyauk Pru using natural gas from Shwe Natural Gas deposits located about 25 miles from the township. In his reply to the question, Union Minister for Energy U Than Htay said that natural gas obtained from Shwe Natural Gas fields will be exported to China through the Burma-China natural gas pipeline and gas cannot be used against the China-Burma agreement. 

The opinions of some Arakanese leaders on the statement made by Union Minister for Energy U Than Htay were solicited by Narinjara and gathered together here as follows: 

U Aye Thar Aung
General Secretary of Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) 
Secretary of Committee of Representing People’s Parliament (CRPP) 

U-Aye-Tha-Aung

“It is very insulting to the Arakanese that gas from Arakan will not be used in Arakan. In short, those words are very hurting ones. Arakanese mainly own all the resources extracted from Arakan. Whether it is gas or oil or wood products or seafood, Arakanese own all those valuable resources. If Burma is a true union and Arakan is a part of it, Arakan should have rights to enjoy some benefits of local products. Therefore, I think the statement saying that there is no plan to use Arakan gas for Arakan is an insult to all Arakanese.” 

—————————————————————————————————–

Dr. Aye Kyaw (U.S.A) 

DrAyeKyaw   

“Gas and other resources from Arakan should bring benefits to all Arakanese. Right now, Arakanese do not get any benefits they deserve. Therefore, we cannot say Burma is a true union as she should be. Though we heard the term Union of Burma, in reality, Burma is just a fake union. Therefore, some appropriate arrangements for Arakanese should be made so that Arakanese can gain some benefits from Arakan gas, teak, and ironwood. I am not saying just for Arakan. Such arrangements should also be done for other states.  Then, our country will become a true union. Otherwise, Burma will not become a true union and we will get stuck with a fake one.” 

—————————————————————————————————–

Dr. Khin Maung 
Chairman of National Union Party of Arakan (NUPA) 
Vice-Chairman I of Arakan National Council (ANC) 

Dr.Khine-Maung-NUPA   

“The Union Minister openly and bluntly reaffirmed their policy that Arakan’s land, water, air, and all natural energy are all under [the central government’s] total control. All of them are actually Arakanese property. However, Arakanese do not have the right for self-determination and freedom of speech. It indicates that Arakanese are losing rights to use its own resources. Therefore, I think Union Minister for Energy dare to imply that the current government does not care for Arakanese and the government will manipulate Arakan resources any way they want for their own benefits instead” 

—————————————————————————————————–

Daw Saw Mra Raza Lurn
Chairwoman of Arakan Women Union

Soe-Mrarazar-Lunn   

“In my opinion, such statement that Arakan natural gas will not be used for Arakan is an utter insult to all Arakanese. Arakanese own that oil and natural gas and they should be used in Arakan. The statement made by the current government, though it publicly said it is moving toward democracy, is an insult to all Arakanese.  All Arakanese should protest this effectively. For the sake of all Arakanese and Arakanese interests, I would like to urge all Arakanese to join hands together with the prominent Arakanese leaders and protect [our own]  interests. 

—————————————————————————————————–

Ko Tun Zaw 
Joint Secretary I of All Arakan Students and Youth Congress (AASYC)
 

Tun-Zaw-AASYC   

“Exporting all the energy generated in Arakan to a foreign state, instead of using it to fulfill the needs of the state, shows, in my opinion, the lack of respect to the will of Arakanese. Though [the leaders of the current government] are currently declaring that they would listen to the voice of the people and the government is a democratic one that respects the people, I think this incident shows that the government is not democratic and does not listen to the peoples’ voice.” 

—————————————————————————————————–

Ko Wong Aung 
Global Coordinator of Shwe Gas Movement

Wong-Aung-SGM

“We welcome to the efforts of the companies involved in Shwe Natural Gas Project for the development of the locals; whether they try to help in health care or education sectors by building clinics and schools. However, we can’t be satisfied by having new schools, and clinics without medical supplies and doctors. What they have done is not operating well at all. In reality, due to Shwe Gas project, the farmers lost their ancestral lands and they have become landless farmers. When their lands that have been passed down generation after generation were stripped from them, they had no right to refuse. Both the government and the companies are forcing the farmers to sell their land at the meager price they want to pay. Nothing has so far benefited the locals; whether in terms of job opportunities or electricity for development purposes, or water or gas. Some portion of the gas will be allocated for government cronies to run their industry and the rest would be sold to China. For the locals, they lost the livelihoods including their ancestral lands. People become unemployed. National and cultural heritages are even now being threatened to vanish. 

Summary of Shwe Gas Project 

The Ministry of Energy and Daewoo International Corporation started the oil and natural gas exploration off the coast of Arakan. In 2004, the huge natural gas deposit called “Shwe” was found and the efforts to extract were later undertaken to produce economically. 

It is estimated that over 2,900 million dollars of revenue will be generated annually. While the Arakanese (the sole owner of the oil and gas) believe that some profits from the Shwe gas should be used for the development of Arakan, Union Minister for Energy U Than Htay spoke up that there is no plan to use Arakan gas for Arakan causing tension between the government and Arakanese.


Positive signs from Burma, but the US remains cautious

US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell speaks to The Natoin’s editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon about political reform in Burma. This is the concluding part of a two part interview that began yesterday.

Suthichai Yoon: There is some positive news from your envoy on Burma. Perhaps you can confirm rumours and speculation. Why aren’t you in Burma on this visit?

Assistant Secretary Campbell: Well, Burma was looking for consultation with its Chinese friends in Beijing [on October 11]. We had a very good meeting with Burma’s foreign minister in New York and subsequently in Washington.

SY: Was that the first time for the Burmese foreign minister to be in the State Department building? What was significant?

ASC: We’ve indicated that there is clearly a change effort inside the country. We’ve been pleased by the outreach from the new president to Aung San Suu Kyi. She herself has expressed satisfaction with the dialogue she’s had. We see some steps – the decision on the [Myitsone] dam, some diplomacies domestically, some assurances on how they propose to interact with North Korea. These are important steps. What we are looking for are irreversible signs that they are heading constructively in the right direction. I think we are encouraged in the initial phase but it’s still too early to make fundamental judgments, and we are looking for them to do more, particularly when it comes to the release of political prisoners. But it is undeniable that there are changes happening inside the country. It is incumbent on us to explore and to be very clear that we will match their changes, if they can be sustained, with legitimate steps of our own.

SY: The Burmese foreign minister might have told you what conditions they need before they can release political prisoners. You must know the time frame and the conditions they think they need before they can do that. Are you ready to meet their requirement?

ASC: I don’t want to portray the nature of diplomacy of this kind, but we had a different kind of discussion. We laid out clearly our hopes and expectations, and I think those are heard clearly and constructively, and we talked about the prospects for going forward. I think there is clear understanding in Naypyidaw of what is necessary. There may be disagreements on those who are classified as political prisoners. We welcome a comprehensive conversation with them about how people are categorised, who we think are political prisoners. But the dialogue I’ve had with them over the course of the last couple of months has no resemblance to the dialogue we had two years ago when we first started. It’s fundamentally different. I would say it is the outset of what we try to institutionalise – a different approach to diplomacy, which is among the most difficult I’ve ever engaged in. I’ve had dialogue with the North Koreans. I’ve had difficult discussions with various militaries around Asia, but nothing as difficult and unproductive as some of the discussions with Naypyidaw. But that has changed fundamentally. There is a new desire to engage. I hope very much that they are sincere and they are able to take our relationship to a new stage, but I have to underscore that we have seen steps like these in the past only to be disappointed by dramatic reversal.

SY: What would come first, the release of political prisoners or the lifting of sanctions?

ASC: I would suggest there isn’t that sort of linkage. Any process of easing of our sanctions will take a substantial period of time. This involves not just the executive branch, but a substantial effort by the legislative branch of the US. It takes substantial consultation and very clear signs of progress. We do not know the process yet. I think the government will need to demonstrate a very clear determination to move forward. I think an appropriate next step will be the release of political prisoners.

SY: That will be the most important condition?

ASC: I think it is laid out clearly, the thing we are looking for is progress with the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, and domestic diplomacy with ethnic minority groups, many of whom are subject to terrible violence and abuse. We would like to see a clear determination to avoid interaction with North Korea that is inconsistent or in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution. Obviously, the release of political prisoners and also steps to address people’s needs in terms of healthcare, food and clothing. There are issues we would like to see progress on, and we have seen some hints, and we hope they will build up in time.

SY: Will you talk to China about Burma too? Are there some signs of change in China’s attitude over Burma issues.

ASC: I think China wants to avoid circumstances where Burma is isolated. I think the isolation is not a strategic interest. At the same time, I think they’re worried about conflict inside the country and its potential to spill over into Thailand or even into China, which clearly is not in their interest. We have encouraged them to be helpful and we think that they have had communication with the new government. Clearly there is an overlap in our mutual interests. We have deep discussions with all of our Asean partners – Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia all have key relationships of a different kind, but key relationships, with Burma. Obviously India and the countries in Northeast Asia and Europe also have a critical role to play in the developments on the ground in the country.

The Conqueror of Kings

Posted: October 17, 2011 in Interviews, Myanmar News

One of Burma’s most influential dissidents, Min Ko Naing, which translates as “The Conqueror of Kings,” was not among those released from jail in Wednesday’s amnesty to over 6,000 prisoners. As one of the most influential leaders in the 88 Generation Students group, he played a key role in Burma’s historic anti-government uprising in 1988 and was later jailed for 15 years until his release in 2004.
Min Ko Naing (real name Paw Oo Tun) was imprisoned again in 2006 for some months. After his release in early 2007, he and fellow 88 Generation Students group members initiated protests against a sudden hike in fuel prices, and all were arrested and sentenced to 65 years in jail.
To many people, Min Ko Naing’s high-profile political activity puts him second only to detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as the most respected leader in Burma’s democracy movement.
The Irrawaddy spoke with Min Ko Naing in April 2007 before he was arrested and transported to a remote prison in Shan State. The following interview is a reprint.
 

Min Ko Naing

Question: The 88 Generation Students’ “Open Heart Campaign” has inspired ordinary Burmese to express their views about the country openly. What is the current status of the campaign and what has it accomplished? 

 Answer: The aim of the campaign is to encourage the people to exercise freedom of expression, which is their basic right. We have seen the people become increasingly aware after launching the campaign. Some citizens wrote their opinions on paper and hung them on the fence of their homes. We have received a huge amount of letters from across the country and can draw the whole picture of the Burmese people’s desires. We have categorized the letters according to social, health and economic issues, and we are preparing a research report. After that, we will announce the result to the world.

Q: You and other leaders of your group were arrested last year on the charge that your efforts might lead to civil unrest. Do you feel that the current climate in Burma could become violent?
 
A: I think that depends on both the regime and the democratic forces. First, we all have to avoid acting out of emotion. When we publicly express our opinions and attitudes, we always take care to avoid violence. On the other side, there should be those who have the ability to listen to us. It is crucial [for the regime] not to approach everything with doubt. If they translate the situation simply into an attempt to overthrow their power, it will end up in a great tragedy. What’s more important is the people have to exercise that right to express their desires peacefully and with nonviolent means. On the other hand, the authorities should approach them in a positive manner and choose the best way to improve the situation. If they view our activities as a threat to their power and respond violently, our future does not look good.
Q: Do you think the road to national reconciliation remains open? 

A: Actually, the doors are on both sides—one on our side and another on the government’s side. Our door remains open. While we are the oppressed who have been struggling against injustice in the country, we continue to open our door because we usually find the answer to a problem is based on the principle of national reconciliation. The issue is the status of the government’s door. We will continue to knock so that we can give them the message that we need to work together in making a nation instead of annihilating each other.

Q: The military government has taken a one-sided approach to national reconciliation—one that excludes [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. Are you prepared to accept such an approach to reform?

A: We never focus simply on the view of an individual or a party. But we can’t accept a one-sided solution, which has forcibly distorted the results of the 1990 election. If we did, how could the people believe in any future election? An election can’t guarantee anything.

We have chosen nonviolent means by which people of all walks of life can participate. A government alone cannot shape a country’s future. The consent of all citizens is the most important prerequisite for governing.
Q: How can the Burmese people participate in politics under the current military regime, and what role is your group playing to establish democracy?

A: Our efforts, such as the signature campaign, white campaign and the open heart campaign, have given the people access to political actions. After we [the group leaders] were released from detention, we stood together and chose a path that the people could follow. They are so oppressed and weak that we have had to be patient in organizing them for political action. While we have chosen nonviolent means, we have encountered various kinds of oppression from the authorities.

It is difficult for us to work under these conditions.

Even though we are ready to serve the cause of democracy both physically and mentally, we have to consider the circumstances of many people in Burma and move forward only when they are prepared to follow. Our future campaigns aim to be more effective and broader in scope and will use only methods that reflect the true desire of our people. We will systematically organize their participation, which will eventually lead to a turning point in our history.

Q: How do you feel about regional countries that conduct business with Burma’s regime rather than support the democratization of the country? 

A: An individual or a country usually acts on the basis of self-interest. But that doesn’t mean that actions should lack ethical or moral motives. If their efforts are balanced, then they should be considered. But a state-to-state relationship is narrow. For the long-term interest of Burma, it should be, I believe, a citizen-to-citizen relationship. We welcome good relations built on ethics and morality. Even the world powers who voted against the resolution on Burma in the UN Security Council acknowledged our country has problems. So these countries should consider the interest of the Burmese people if they want to deal with the country openly and honestly. The state-to-state relationship is just temporary and historically weak.

……..
Irrawaddy


 Mizzima News 

(Interview) – During the “Saffron Revolution” in 2007, the army and police raided Ngwe Kyar Yan Monastery in South Okkalapa Township in Rangoon and arrested many monks. U Ithiriaya (Ngwe Kyar Yan), one of the monks, was charged as one of the leaders of the Saffron Movement. He was disrobed and sentenced to six and one-half years in prison. He was released from Kengtung prison on Wednesday under the presidential amnesty after serving four years. Mizzima reporter Kyaw Kha talks to him about the monk- lead movement, politics and his future.

More than 100,000 people protested against the military government in Rangoon during the 2007

More than 100,000 people protested against the military government in Rangoon during the 2007

Question: What is your monk name and how were you arrested and imprisoned?

Answer: My monkhood name is U Ithiriya and my layman name is Aung Ko Nyein. I was arrested in 2007 for joining a peaceful march during the “Saffron Revolution.” Our monastery was raided on September 26, and I was arrested along with many other monks. Then they selected six leading monks in the movement, and we were each given six and half years prison terms.

Q: Can you tell us how you were arrested and your experiences in interrogation?

A: The army raided our monastery around midnight on September 26 and the scene that night was terrible and miserable. They brutally beat us and took us away. Some of us had no robes when we were forcibly taken away. Some young monks were treated like animals. They were taken away without footwear and robes. They were naked. They were given robes only when they were interrogated in the prison.

We were disrobed as soon as we were interrogated in the prison. We had no footwear for about three months. They did not recognize us as monks. They ordered us to mimic riding motorcycles and frog leaping during the interrogations. Almost all of us were kicked and severely beaten. We were black and blue from the torture. I cannot revisit these terrible things. All the monks arrested from Ngwe Kyar Yan Monastery were severely beaten. The monks who were captured in their photo records were also arrested and beaten later.

Q: Now it has been four years since the “Saffron Revolution.” Has the monks’ boycott of accepting alms from the military expired?

A: It will never expire, because the regime brutally cracked down on this peaceful demonstration that expressed the will and desire of the people. The monks and the people will never forget the brutal scene and the killing of the peaceful demonstrators on the roads. I firmly believe the “Saffron Revolution” generation will never disappear.

Q: Who else was released with you on Wednesday? Who remains in prison?

A: Among the total of 144 prisoners released from Kengtung Prison, the prisoners of conscience are I, Win Swe (Insein NLD), U Thuta Nyarna a.k.a. Than Zaw and Soe Min Oo from the Shwepyitha NLD Youth. Four monks from the ‘Saffron Revolution” are left in Kengtung prison.

Q: The international community and Burmese opposition forces frequently urge the government to release prisoners of conscience including monks. But the Burmese government always says that there are no prisoners of conscience in the prisons. What is your comment on this government policy?

A: I don’t know much to say about politics, but I like the words belief and conscience. All people including monks are struggling for their freedom. Freedom is for all including a bus driver and a rickshaw puller. Everybody wants freedom. We were arrested and imprisoned for working for the people to be freed from their daily hardships and sufferings. We did this work with belief and good conscience. The government does not want to use the word “political prisoners” but they must accept the word “prisoners of conscience.”

Q: Did you face difficulties in healthcare, reading and daily food in prison?

A: All of these things were quite good before the general election, but we faced difficulties after the election. Senior jailor Zaw Oo did not want to give us these rights anymore after that. He gave us only more restrictions and obstructions.

A jail staff member once brought monhinga (a traditional Burmese food of rice vermicelli with fish soup) into the prison for himself but Zaw Oo didn’t allow the food inside. He forced the jail staff to eat it at the prison gate instead; otherwise it could be given to the political prisoners. He acted like that. Before the election, our life in the prison was quite good and convenient, and I have no idea why they changed.

I wrote about 60 poems in the prison but they kept all of them. I asked them to give back the poems when I was released, but they passed the buck to each other and said that the poems were not in their hands, and maybe kept by either the jail superintendent or a jailor. I will wait until I can meet the senior jailor and hope to get all the poems back.

Q: Were you allowed to read daily papers, journals and books in the prison? What do you think of the new government led by President Thein Sein?

A: In my opinion, they are good. In the past, we could do nothing, but now he has halted the Myitsone Dam project. This sort of thing was unimaginable in the past. Listening to the people’s voice and fulfilling their desire is a good sign. I think it will be slightly better in both politics and economics in the future.

In the past, we rarely saw Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, usually only on the occasions of Martyrs’ Day and Independence Day. Now we can see her picture frequently in the weekly journals. So I think this is a good sign.

Q: What is your opinion on the meeting between Suu Kyi and Thein Sein?

A: I liked it very much, their adjusting differences and working on a common ground with the opposition. As a monk, I don’t like to say much about other issues. I like it if the authorities work together with Daw Suu in negotiations and consultations.

Q: After being released from prison, how will you live? As a layman or as a monk? Will you continue to work in the political and social areas?

A: They forcibly disrobed us in the prison, but we are still in the monkhood. Even at the time of Lord Buddha, a monk named Bahiya Darusi was robbed by dacoits of everything he had including his robe, and he had to wear wood plank instead. The clothes I am wearing now can cover my entire body. I had to wear these clothes in difficult times. But I am still a monk anyway. I will be a monk until death. I am determined to be a monk forever.

Q: What would you like to say about prison life, especially for the monks?

A: The prison is not a place for monks. Prison imprison everything. According to the Buddhist canon law, we were still in the monkhood but the jailors and prison staff did not treat us as venerable monks with due respect. We had to sit in prescribed forms when the jail superintendent came to our wards. The discipline is everywhere; the prison will have prison rules and discipline and also the monastery has its own rules and disciplines. So treating us as laymen is a big sin for them. I hope I will never see monks in prison again in my life.

Q: How do you see the release of prisoners by this new government?

A: In our Buddhist scriptures, a deer called Pada laughed and cried in the presence of Lord Buddha. We have to laugh and cry at the same time too now, because some of us are left in the prison. We feel very sorry for them, and we have to cry for them. At the same time, I can meet my family and relatives soon so I feel happy and laugh.

Q: Tell us about the difficulties of the monks in the prison where life is not in harmony with the Buddhist canon laws.

A: The prison life is quite different from normal life. In normal life, monks can have a good meal easily but in the prison they have to finish their meal with tarlabaw soup on most days. I was born in Monywa in upper Burma but brought up in Rangoon and then imprisoned in Kengtung in Shan State. So you can imagine how difficult life was. Many families and relatives could not visit us during imprisonment. These are some of the difficulties of monks in prison.


Zarganar, a well-known Burmese dissident and popular comedian, was released from prison Wednesday morning under a government amnesty for over 6,000 prisoners. Over the past two decades, he was frequently jailed or detained for his political activities as well as for making satirical jokes about Burma’s military rulers. Prior to his release, he was serving a 24-year prison sentence in Myitkyina Prison in northern Burma for publicly criticizing the slow and ineffective government relief efforts in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. 

The Irrawaddy spoke with Zarganar on Wednesday, shortly after he was reunited with his family in Rangoon.

Zarganar, a well-known Burmese dissident and popular comedian

Question: How were you treated in prison? Did you face any torture? Answer: Prison conditions are not as bad as during the 1990s, when I was first jailed. I wasn’t tortured, and the prison officials didn’t even verbally insult us. But we never had any visit from the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross).

Q: Did the government make any deals with you before you were released?
A: Not at all. They came and told me about my release at 5 a.m. When I was told that I was being freed, I even jokingly asked if that meant my soul was free from my body.

Q: There were rumors during the past three months about your possible release. Did you hear about them?

A: No. I haven’t heard anything about it. But when we heard about the announcement of amnesty on the radio, I never thought I would be among those released.
Q: What are you going to do now that you are free?

A: Since I believe that art and politics are interrelated, I will continue to do both of them. We have long demanded a multi-party democracy, but what we have now is a “mono-party” democracy. Since the current system is not genuine democracy, I will continue to do both politics and art.

Q: There has been talk of positive changes taking place in Burma, and the US and the European Union have made positive statements about the meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein. What is your take?
 
A: I wanted to believe in these positive changes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi spoke about. But since this morning, I lost belief in them because I found that the government does not have a true desire to release all political prisoners. They are not really enthusiastic about the release of political prisoners. They even hesitated to release me. Why don’t they release all political prisoners? Is there any cost to them in releasing the political prisoners? Since the cases of the political prisoners did not take place during the rule of U Thein Sein’s government, all of the political prisoners must be released if the government wants to strive for a genuine democracy.

I want all political prisoners to be released. Not only Min Ko Naing [the detained 88 Generation Students group leader], but also all other political detainees. I lived with four Buddhist monks who were jailed but are not well known to many people. I want them to be released too. Also the famous Buddhist monk Ashin Gambira, and other detainees such as Gen Khin Nyunt [the purged military intelligence chief who is still under house arrest].

http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=22247


(Interview) – Mizzima correspondent Kyaw Kha talked by telephone with Burmese comedian Zarganar, who was released from Myitkyina Prison and arrived back at his home in Rangoon on Wednesday.

Burmese comedian Zarganar, aka Thura, who was released from prison under a presidential amnesty is welcomed by crowds at Mingaladon Airport in Rangoon on Wednesday, October 12, 2011.

Burmese comedian Zarganar, aka Thura, who was released from prison under a presidential amnesty is welcomed by crowds at Mingaladon Airport in Rangoon on Wednesday, October 12, 2011. Photo: Mizzima

Question: When did you learn that you would be released from prison?

Answer: While we were sleeping. They woke us up at around 5:30 a.m. and told me that I was released. Then I left the prison.

Q: What are your plans now? Will you continue to take part in politics, social activities and artistic activities?

A: Regarding the three fields, I’ll continue those activities. Those are all activities I’m interested in, so I’ll continue.

Q: Why do you think the new government released ordinary prisoners and some political prisoners?

A: Only [President] Thein Sein knows why we were released. I was released, but I don’t know why.

Q: When you were in prison, did you know much about the new government’s actions?

A: In the prison, we can read newspapers and journals. I knew about some things from the newspapers and journals.

Q: What do you think about the new government?

A: Earlier, it satisfied me a little. But according to today’s conditions regarding the amnesty, I am not satisfied. As you see, they are releasing political prisoners little by little; so we are like the victims in the hands of Somali pirates. What is their ransom demands? The situation is like that.

Q: What other political prisoners were in Myitkyina Prison?

A: With me were Myo Aung Thant, who was also released. He was imprisoned 14 years ago. Zin Min Tun was also released. He was arrested in the “Saffron Revolution” and imprisoned four years ago. And many political prisoners are still in [Myitkyina] prison. There are four monks: Thiha Thet Zin from Bogale; Zayyar Aung from Pegu; Myo Min Than from Bagan; and Kyi Soe from Taungtha.

Q: What would you like to say about the political prisoners still in the prison?

A: If all [political prisoners] are released that will be the best moment. Then it will be an opportunity to do activities and express our feelings. I’ll wait for that that time. We will work in order that all are released.

Q: How were prison conditions like including health services and food?  Does it improve?

A: Yes, it is very different [from earlier]. The conditions have improved from before. The health service is also OK. Doctors can be available. I have nothing to criticize about it. It’s good. I was imprisoned four times and this last time I felt as though I were in a religious hall.

Q: What is your opinion on the Thee Lay Thee traditional dance troupe?  You were once a member, and some members have returned to Burma.

A: Now, besides me, there are two Thees: Sein Thee and Zee Thee. The Thees who are in a foreign country are Pan Thee, Kyel Thee and Mee Thee. People will see we all are united again and we will entertain. With my return, everything will be OK. I’ll lead all of them.