Myanmar says it freed jailed American because of friendship with United States

Friday, March 19, 2010

Myanmar credits US ties for freeing American

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s ruling military junta decided to release a naturalized American citizen from prison because of its friendship with the U.S. government, state media said Friday.

Nyi Nyi Aung, a pro-democracy activist originally from Myanmar, was freed Thursday, a month after a court sentenced him to three years in prison with hard labor.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece for the junta, said the government pardoned and deported Nyi Nyi Aung after giving “special consideration to bilateral friendship in accordance with the request made by the U.S. State Department” to free him.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed the release and said, “We welcome that development.”

Ties between the two countries actually are strained and tense. In the past, Myanmar’s state media have referred to the U.S. as a “loudmouthed bully.”

The United States recently modified its strict policy of isolating the junta in the hope that increased engagement would encourage change. However, the Obama administration has said it will not lift sanctions on Myanmar unless its sees concrete progress toward democratic reform — notably the release of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and freedom for her party to participate in elections expected later this year.

Election laws recently announced by the junta effectively bar Suu Kyi from participating in the balloting and were viewed as a setback to Myanmar-U.S. relations.

Nyi Nyi Aung, 40, also known as Kyaw Zaw Lwin, was arrested when he arrived at Yangon’s international airport Sept. 3 and was accused of plotting to stir political unrest, which he denied. He was convicted in February of forging a national identity card, possessing undeclared foreign currency, and failing to renounce his Myanmar citizenship when becoming an American citizen.

He was escorted aboard a flight to Thailand accompanied by a U.S. consular official, said his aunt, Khin Khin Swe.

His fiancee, Wa Wa Kyaw, released a statement thanking the U.S. State Department and members of Congress for helping secure his release. The couple live in Maryland.

As a teenager in Myanmar, Nyi Nyi Aung helped organize students during the country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising, which was violently suppressed by the military, and later fled to the United States. His reason for returning to Myanmar was not clear, though there has been speculation he hoped to see his mother and sister, both of whom are serving jail terms for political activities.

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