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Junta frees long-time political prisoner Win Tin

Latest update : 2008-09-25

Burma's longest-serving political prisoner, journalist Win Tin, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years in jail and immediately vowed to continue his struggle against 46 years of unbroken military rule.

Myanmar's junta on Tuesday released its longest-serving political prisoner as part of an amnesty for more than 9,000 inmates, but he immediately vowed to continue to fight the ruling generals.

Win Tin, a 79-year-old journalist and prominent dissident, had been behind the bars of Yangon's feared Insein prison since 1989. He was one of just a handful of jailed dissidents freed as part of the amnesty.

"I will continue with politics as I am a politician," he told reporters at a friend's house after his release, still dressed in a blue prison-issue outfit.

"What kind of politics? To finish military rule," he added.

State media announced Tuesday the 9,002 prisoners would be freed so they could take part in elections promised by the ruling generals for 2010, while the move also comes on the year anniversary of massive anti-junta protests.

Human rights groups estimate that about 2,000 political prisoners are locked away in Myanmar, but a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party said just four including Win Tin were freed on Tuesday.

Spokesman Nyan Win said he was "very glad" about Win Tin's release, and told AFP that three other prominent NLD members -- May Win Myint, Aung Soe Myint and Than Nyein -- had also been freed.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said that the prisoners would be released on Tuesday due to good conduct and "to enable them to serve the interests of the regions and... the fair election to be held in 2010".

"Plans are being made for those serving prison terms to turn them into citizens to be able to participate in building a new nation," the paper added.

Myanmar's military government has said it will hold multi-party elections in 2010, but critics say the polls are just a way for the generals to solidify and legitimise their power.

The United Nations has urged the regime to free all political prisoners, the most famous of whom is NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been detained for most of the last 19 years.

United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, met Win Tin and other prominent political prisoners inside the notorious Insein prison when he visited the country in August.

They included Buddhist monk Gambira, who helped lead massive anti-government protests in September last year.

About 700 of the 2,000 political prisoners that human rights groups say are currently behind bars were arrested during those demonstrations, which the regime quashed a year ago this week.

The UN has said at least 31 people were killed during the crackdown, and security has been tight in Yangon during the anniversary of the violence.

Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a sweeping election victory in 1990, but the junta never allowed her to take office, and instead kept the Nobel peace prize winner locked away at her Yangon lakeside home.

Date created : 2008-09-23