Myanmar moves to welcome back expatriates

Aug. 29, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

YANGON, Myanmar, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Myanmar has lifted a ban on more than 2,000 of its citizens, including journalists, allowing those living abroad to return home.

A brief announcement in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said 2,082 of 6,165 "blacklisted persons" have been cleared as part of the country's move toward a more democratic society.

"In the past, companies and persons from all fields including media were blacklisted and banned by the government in the national interest," the New Light report said.

"But the government is lifting the ban on them in accordance with the reforming system."

The report gave no other details of the decision, such as who are the people and why they had been blacklisted.

Blacklisted people living in Myanmar are free to travel abroad, the BBC reported.

People blacklisted include government critics, foreign journalists and public sector workers who went abroad during decades of military rule which ended after a national election in November 2010.

The new government of ex-junta members took office in January last year.

Many Western countries initially called the election process and result fraudulent at the time but moves toward a more open society by Thein Sein, former junta prime minister and now Myanmar's civilian president, have been welcomed.

Blacklisted people have included actress Michelle Yeoh, who played Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the film "The Lady." Also, Benedict Rogers, who wrote the biography of former military leader Than Shwe, has been blacklisted, the BBC said.

The wording of the announcement in New Light suggests that the move is primarily for getting expatriates to return home, the Irrawaddy news Web site, run by expatriate Myanmar journalists operating in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said.

Even so, the government move was welcomed by a former political prisoner, Ko Ko Gyi, a leader of the 88 Generation Students group, a pro-democracy group set up in 2005. It took its name from a series of student protests against the military dictatorship in 1998.

"We can say that taking names off of the blacklist is an improvement," Ko Ko told Irrawaddy.

However, former political prisoners must wait a year from their release before they can get a passport, he said.

"They discriminate against us, even though we have the same rights as other citizens. They released us from prison, but they still shackle our feet," Ko Ko said.

In October the government announced a major prisoner amnesty that included the release of up to 200 political prisoners among some 6,000 inmates overall released.

But many more political prisoners remain in jail, the United Nations said at the time, as well as the country's Human Rights Commission that the government created last year.

Western governments consider the release of political prisoners essential for improved relations with Myanmar, which for years was a political outcast because of its military governments.

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