Former pariah state pardons more than 500 prisoners

Tue, Sep 18, 2012, 01:00

Burma pardoned more than 500 prisoners yesterday in an amnesty that included political detainees, according to the opposition party, a step that could strengthen the former military state’s growing bonds with Washington.

A government bulletin announcing the news on state television did not make clear if any of those affected were political inmates. But Naing Naing, an official of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said he was hopeful the amnesty included 424 remaining political prisoners.

“We’re optimistic that these are the remaining political prisoners,” said Naing Naing, himself a former political prisoner.

He said the NLD received word political prisoners had been amnestied from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners , a Thai-based group that tracks prisoners in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Bo Kyi, secretary general of the AAPP, said political prisoners were among those pardoned, but the organisation needed more time to confirm the number.

The timing of the amnesty is significant, coming days ahead of a visit to the United States by Burma’s reformist president, Thein Sein, and a separate US trip that began yesterday by Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Suu Kyi’s election in April helped to transform Burma’s pariah image and convince the West to begin rolling back sanctions after a year of dramatic reforms, including the release of about 700 political prisoners between May 2011 and July this year. The US has called for all remaining dissidents to be freed as a precondition for further economic rewards, including a relaxation of a ban on imports imposed years ago over human rights abuses.

The US state department reacted cautiously to news of the amnesty. – (Reuters)