Myanmar frees prisoners, doubts over political detainees

Thu Nov 15, 2012 5:01am EST
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By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar released prisoners on Thursday in a goodwill gesture ahead of a historic visit to the former military state by U.S. President Barack Obama, but activists and the main opposition party said there seemed to be no political detainees among them.

State media said early in the day that 452 prisoners would be freed with the "intent to help promote goodwill and the bilateral relationship". A Home Ministry official said some "prisoners of conscience" would be among them.

However, the National League for Democracy party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said that was not the case.

"It's so disappointing that none of those freed today are political prisoners," said senior party official Naing Naing, himself a former detainee.

Myanmar has released about 800 political prisoners as part of a dramatic reform program over the past year and a half but it is believed to be still holding several hundred.

The prisoners released on Thursday included people who had been jailed for deserting the army or committing some other military offence, Naing Naing said. "Maybe these people are political prisoners by their yardstick."

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) had not heard of any political prisoners being among the 144 people it said had been released by mid-afternoon.

Families are often told by the authorities to prepare for the release of prisoners who can be in jails in distant provinces, but AAPP representative Bo Kyi said he was not aware of any being given such notice on this occasion.   Continued...