Myanmar protesters reunited with families in junta amnesty

YANGON (AFP) – Newly released anti-coup protesters in Myanmar were reunited with their families outside a Yangon prison yesterday in tearful scenes on the second day of a junta amnesty as international pressure mounts on the regime.

The Southeast Asian country has been in chaos since a coup in February, with more than 1,100 civilians killed in a bloody crackdown on dissent and more than 8,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.

On Monday, the military said it would free more than 5,000 people to mark the three-day Buddhist Thadingyut festival, sending anxious families rushing to prisons, joyful at the prospect of reunions after months apart.

“I’ve missed you so much,” a mother wept over her newly released son, as he cradled his young child. “I’m so proud of you.”

She was among hundreds who had gathered again yesterday morning outside the colonial-era Insein prison in Yangon, some carrying flowers and placards bearing the names of their relatives.

A man celebrates with relatives after being released from Insein Prison in Yangon. PHOTO: AFP

Buses pulled out, with former detainees inside giving the thumbs up gesture through the windows to the cheering crowd, some of whom flashed the three-fingered salute – a sign adopted by the democracy movement.

Than Toe Aung Was – imprisoned for around six months – was greeted by his jubilant sister outside.

“I would not say why I was arrested,” he said, urging people to “move forward for the future”.

“I’m happy for my release. But I will have to try for those who are not released,” he added, flashing the crowd a three-fingered salute.

Meanwhile, Nwet Nwet San said he was hoping his son, a soldier who had run away from the army, would be freed.

“He’s been in prison for eight months,” he told AFP, adding that although he had heard it was mostly protesters being released, others would be set free too.

“That’s why I’m waiting.”

The amnesty was “a tactical response to a pretty hostile domestic and international environment,” Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

“These kinds of cynical moves may have worked 20 years ago… but it will do nothing to improve the standing of this regime.”