(Interview) – Burmese President Thein Sein recently encouraged Burmese exiles to return home. One of his presidential advisers says Parliament will pass a bill to implement the offer. Mizzimacorrespondent Tun Tun asked Ko Ko Hlaing, a presidential adviser, how the amnesty offer will work. Ko Ko Hlaing explained that all exiles could return and no one would be punished except people who have committed criminal offenses, and he described other aspects of the bill to be introduced in Parliament.
Question: How will this amnesty offer for exiles work?
Answer: As far as I know, no one will be punished except people who committed “personal offences” against someone such as murder, robbery or physical assault and so on. Except for punishing people who committed crimes against someone, the government will not punish exiles. The details will be disclosed when the law is officially approved in Parliament. They are arranging to put forward that bill. You will know the details when the bill has been brought before Parliament. Then, they will debate and vote on the bill.
Q: So the only penalties will concern people who committed crimes against someone?
A: Yes. The reason is that the nation cannot forgive a person who harmed someone, because there is a person who has suffered. The nation cannot pardon those culprits. Otherwise, the other side will accuse the government of bias. For rebelling against the nation such as membership in an illegal association or joining rebels and so on, some criminal cases are unavoidable. But former amnesties forgave all of those kinds of people if they didn’t commit criminal crimes.
Even insurgents were forgiven. So, there is no reason not to forgive others.
Q: For example, how would the All Burma Students' Democratic Front and ethnic armed groups be treated?
A: If they lay down their arms, the government is ready to grant amnesty. If they want to return to the legal fold immediately, they will be accepted immediately. Regarding the killing of soldiers during fighting, fighting is an armed conflict. The army will shoot rebels. Rebels will attack the army. There are such cases in every country.
But, there is one exception. If someone killed villagers after alleging that they [villagers] gave information to the army….for instance, the case in Sinzwe Village, we cannot forgive those kinds of cases.
Q: Do you mean that they would be punished in accordance with the current laws?
A: If they committed crimes against villagers, those will be exceptional cases. Mutual shootings between armed groups are usual. Armed groups have the right to shot each other. They have the right to protect themselves. For villagers, they are not armed to protect themselves. In the past, “Red Flag Communist” led by Thakhin Soe [now deceased] killed all the villagers of Sinzwe Village.
Now, for instance, on some occasions, the SSA and some armed groups killed female teachers. In those cases, they will receive the punishment they deserve, and then they will be free.
Q: Does the government have a plan about how to reintroduce exiles back into the country?
A: I don’t know exactly because I’m neither a member of the government nor an MP. I think that the government will plan to resettle them in Burma and so on. The administrative bodies will do the necessary things after the amnesty, I think.
Q: In your opinion, how soon could the law to bring back exiles be passed and ready to implement?
A: Now parliament is beginning to work on this. Parliament will put up the bill. The bill will be debated and amended in one house first. Then if the house approves the bill, it will be submitted to the other house. If both houses approve the bill, it will be forwarded to the president. When the president signs the bill, it can be enforced as a law. I don’t know how long the process will take. That depends on the Parliament.
Q: Some people have criticized the offer and expressed distrust of the government. How will you overcome such doubts?
A: Nothing [no description] can be as transparent and strong as a law. If laws are passed and enforced, nothing can be better than that. Do you agree?”
Q: So, we have to wait and see the law.
A: Laws govern each country. We need to do everything in accordance with the law, so everyone, from the president to ordinary staff, must obey the laws. There is no better guarantee than enforcing the laws.
Q: Some observers have alleged that the government has made this offer because it wants to chair Asean in 2014. How do you respond to such charges?
A: Whether we can chair Asean or not, they [the exiles] are Burmese citizens. I will work for the sake of the people and the nation. We work together for everyone’s sake. Some people in foreign countries are criticizing the offer based on their own views. They can criticize in various ways. But our good intentions will be obvious later because of our actions.
If we invite exile to return to Burma just to show off, they can criticize us for being fake. If our invitation is genuine, the people will recognize that and then believe the offer is real.
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