Myanmar frees 44 political prisoners

December 11, 2013 - 11:02:52 am

YANGON: Myanmar on Wednesday freed 44 political detainees, a presidential adviser said, the latest in a series of prisoner amnesties by the country's reformist regime.

"In total 44 political prisoners have been released around the country today," Hla Maung Shwe told AFP.

President Thein Sein has pledged to release all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar by the end of the year.

The former general, who took power in March 2011, has earned plaudits and the removal of most western sanctions for reforms that have included freeing hundreds of critics detained under the previous junta.

Under his leadership, the nation has undergone dramatic changes including the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

But activists say authorities continue to prosecute dissidents. 

They accuse the government of using the headline-grabbing prisoner releases for political gain and leverage with the international community.

The latest amnesty came as foreign dignitaries gathered in Myanmar's capital for the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games.

Thein Sein, who has won international praise and the removal of most Western sanctions for reforms, announced during his first visit to London in July there would be "no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar" by the end of the year.

The country pardoned 69 inmates in November as it hosted several top-level international delegations, including from the European Union.

Soon afterwards, a United Nations rights committee called on Myanmar to stick to its pledge to free political inmates as it passed a toned-down version of its annual resolution on the former pariah state.

Many of those released on Wednesday were connected to the country's ethnic conflicts, Bo Kyi said.

As part of reforms Thein Sein's government has reached tentative peace deals with most major armed ethnic minority rebel groups in the country, which has been racked by civil wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1948.

But fighting in the northern state of Kachin, near the border with China, has continued since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June 2011, leaving tens of thousands displaced. (AFP)

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