Dissident’s Son Skeptical Gov’t Will Release Aung San Suu Kyi

By Brian Covert
Staff Writer

NAGOYA — The son of imprisoned Myanmarese democracy movement leader U Tin Oo denounced the recent signs of openness by the military regime in his country as nothing but superficial moves to lighten up pressure by foreign countries.

“They are just playing games,” 32-year-old Thant Zin Oo said about the ruling junta in Myanmar, in his first-ever public interview in Japan. “The generals will never let go of their power.”

His father, now serving a 10-year prison sentence for his leading role in Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement — especially after the bloody 1988 military coup there — was a former general in the Defense Ministry.

This stay in Japan is the second time around for Thant Zin Oo, who studied and worked here from 1983-85 and speaks Japanese fluently. He said he decided to return to Nagoya recently to pursue educational and job opportunities that he hopes someday to put to good use in his native country.

His decision to return to Japan was prompted in great part by the lack of jobs under Burma’s faltering economy, he says, made no less easier by his being the son of a prominent former general who remains firmly opposed to the country’s military rule.

Thant Zin Oo carries around with him in Japan a small photo album containing pictures of his family back home: his wife — a doctor by profession — and seven-year-old son who remain behind in Myanmar, and his father, U Tin Oo, who remains in prison in connection with his political activities.

His father served as chairman of the National League for Democracy, the opposition party jointly founded in 1988 with Myanmar’s most well-known political figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She has been under house arrest since 1989.

In a politically risky yet candid interview, Thant Zin Oo expressed skepticism over recent reports that some guards around Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence have been removed and that the government may release her in July.

“I don’t think our government is going to release Aung San Suu Kyi in the near future,” he said.

It was Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity among the masses that helped the NLD to a landslide victory in Burma’s 1990 general election. But the ruling junta has refused to recognize the outcome, instead demanding that a new constitution be drafted before the governmental reins of power are transferred. Recent reports indicate little progress is being made on the new constitutional charter after two years of deliberations.

The U.S. State Department and the London-based Amnesty International human rights organization recently released separate reports citing an improvement in Myanmar’s human rights record. But the reports also blasted the country’s military rulers for ongoing cases of forced labor and forced relocation of civilians, as well as ill-treatment, torture or extrajudicial killings of ethnic minorities and political dissidents.

Thant Zin Oo himself was under house arrest for six months in 1989 but says he was never tortured. In fact, he confided with a laugh, he was often befriended and went out drinking with some of the soldiers who were supposed to be guarding him.