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File | Associated Press
In this 1997 photo Rep. Sonny Bono stands on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Myanmar strikes Sonny Bono from blacklist

YANGON, Myanmar – The names recently trimmed from Myanmar’s blacklist read like a who’s who of prominent diplomats, human rights campaigners and Asian-based journalists.

After announcing this week it had cut a third of the names off its 6,165-person blacklist, the government took another step toward openness Thursday by publishing the names of more than 1,000 foreigners stricken from the notorious list.

Among them are former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the late singer, activist and politician Sonny Bono, and the Philippines President Corazon Aquino, whose name seems to be listed several times, including as “Madame Corazon C.A guino.”

Also cut from the list are the sons of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – Alexander Aris who lives in the United States and his London-based brother Kim Aris. Some people cited, including Kim Aris, had already been allowed back into the country, suggesting that their names were previously removed from the list. Aris has visited his mother a few times since her release from house arrest in 2010.

Myanmar’s former military regime used the blacklist to keep out critics and others deemed a threat to national security. It blocked selected foreigners from entering the country and also prohibited certain Burmese nationals from leaving.

It was not known until Thursday when the posting appeared that the list was officially called: “Black List.” It cited the names, passport numbers and nationalities of 1,147 foreigners removed from the list, including exiled Burmese citizens. It is riddled with typos and includes vague references like No. 540 Nick and No. 899 Mohammed.

One name from past headlines was John William Yettaw, an American who was deported from Myanmar after swimming to Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in 2009 in a bizarre act that landed them both in prison.

Others stricken from the list include several Human Rights Watch campaigners and British activist James Mawdsley, who spent 14 months of solitary confinement in a Myanmar prison for taking part in pro-democracy protests in the late 1990s.

Several Associated Press reporters are among the many foreign correspondents removed from the blacklist, including longtime AP Bangkok bureau chief Denis Gray. The list also ends a longtime ban on Swedish author and journalist Bertil Lintner.

Diplomats removed from the list include former U.S. Charge d’Affairs Priscilla Clapp and British Ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman, who married a Burmese painter and former political prisoner.

Prominent Burmese dissidents removed from the list include Aung Din, head of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma.

The trimming of the blacklist was the latest sign of change as Thein Sein’s government implements reforms after decades of harsh military rule.

The new government took office in March 2010 after the country’s first elections in 20 years. Until now, it has continued to update the blacklist as it sees fit. It is apparently keeping secret the names of some 4,000 people still on its blacklist.