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Asia-pacific

300 political prisoners freed in biggest amnesty yet

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-01-14

Authorities in Burma claimed on Saturday 300 political prisoners have been released from prison. The amnesty has been hailed by Western countries including the United States which vowed to restore diplomatic ties with the country.

AFP - Myanmar said Saturday it freed more than 300 political prisoners in its most significant amnesty yet, a move which prompted the United States to pledge it would restore full diplomatic ties.

Friday’s releases, which included a number of prominent dissidents, were hailed by Western powers that have long demanded the freeing of political detainees before they will consider lifting sanctions on the isolated nation.

US President Barack Obama said the amnesty was a “substantial step” towards democracy in a country ruled for decades by the military, while the party led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi called it a “positive sign”.
 
Myanmar said Friday about 650 inmates were included in the mass pardon, but it had not been clear how many were political prisoners.
 
Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko said that 302 of those released were on a list of political detainees compiled by a political group, thought to be Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
 
He insisted that none of those had been jailed for political reasons.
“We didn’t take action against anyone because of politics or beliefs,” he told reporters Saturday.
 
“This release was not according to the demand of any person or any organisation. We released them according to the true benevolence of the government.”
 
It is not clear how many more political prisoners are still behind bars, but Ko Ko said 128 people remained on the list submitted by the unnamed political group.
 
These prisoners could not be released for security reasons because they had committed serious crimes, he said.
 
Those freed included leading pro-democracy dissidents who were at the forefront of a failed 1988 uprising in which thousands died and participants in 2007’s “Saffron Revolution” protests.
 
About 200 political detainees were let out in October, and estimates of the number left in prison after that amnesty ranged from 500 to more than 1,500.
 
Another 100 of those released in Friday’s move were former members of the intelligence service, Ko Ko said.
 
Among them was Khin Nyunt, a former prime minister and intelligence chief who was ousted in 2004 in a power struggle and placed under house arrest.
 
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington would begin the process of exchanging ambassadors with Myanmar and pledged to take further steps to boost relations.
 
The US has been represented by a lower-ranking diplomat, a charge d’affaires, since it withdrew its ambassador in 1990 in protest after Myanmar’s military rulers refused to accept the results of elections won by Suu Kyi’s party.
 
The nominally civilian government that came to power last year in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has surprised even sceptics with a series of reformist moves.
 
It froze work on an unpopular dam supported by powerful neighbour China last year, and on Thursday signed a ceasefire with a major armed ethnic Karen group involved in one of the world’s longest-running civil conflicts.
 
The country recently announced plans to hold by-elections on April 1 and Suu Kyi—released from years of house arrest in November 2010 -- plans to stand for a seat in parliament in a constituency near the main city Yangon.
 
The 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner said earlier this week that her country was "on the verge of a breakthrough to democracy".
 
The state-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Saturday said the amnesty aimed to ensure stability and peace and to foster national reconciliation.
 
“All people happily welcome the release of prisoners and should put all-out efforts into the emergence of a democratic nation,” said an English-language editorial.

 

Date created : 2012-01-14

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