Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Myanmar completes release of 9,000 prisoners

BURMA: YANGON: Myanmar has completed its mass release of more than 9,000 prisoners, a prison department source said on Saturday, amid opposition claims the move would be meaningless without the freeing of more dissidents.

The prison department source said all 9,248 prisoners promised freedom had been released by late last Friday, although the comment could not be independently checked.

All the listed prisoners in the announcement were released. The regime said last Thursday through state media it would free 5,311 prisoners on top of the 3,937 planned releases announced a week earlier.

But there has so far been no accurate independent verification of the numbers released. [?] Several hundred were freed in the past week including fewer than 30 dissidents, according to the opposition and witnesses.

Another 10 dissidents were among the second batch freed, said Myanmar officials. The National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party had been hoping for freedom for 400 dissidents in the first set of releases alone.

"I am quite disappointed but I continue to hope that more such official announcements of prisoner releases will follow, especially political prisoners," NLD spokesman U Lwin said.

U Lwin said, "If the junta did not commit itself to the release of greater numbers of political prisoners all of this would be meaningless. The timing of the release coincided with a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which starts in Laos on Monday.

Political developments in member country Myanmar are expected to be a major focus of the meeting. The junta has said the prisoners were wrongly imprisoned by an intelligence bureau disbanded after the sacking and arrest of former premier Khin Nyunt last month. He was also the head of military intelligence for two decades.

Most prisoners were petty criminals, according to the junta, which has so far refused to name the handful of political prisoners also freed. However, Myanmarâs foreign minister Major-General Nyan Win said Friday the release list did not include Win Tin, 74, one of Myanmarâs best-known journalists and a prominent opposition figure.

The ailing writer has been behind bars for 15 years and has been the subject of a long freedom campaign by rights groups and the United Nations. The most famous dissident so far known to have been released was Min Ko Naing, the leader of 1988 student protests, who was released a week ago. Among those released Friday from Insein prison, the countryâs largest jail, and a prison in the northern city of Mandalay were six political dissidents, according to the NLD which is headed by detained democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. afp

By Vicki Chartrand posted 30 November 04


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