19 political prisoners in Myanmarese amnesty for 6,000

February 22nd, 2009 - 2:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Yangon, Feb 22 (DPA) Myanmar’s amnesty for more than 6,000 prisoners has so far included only 19 political prisoners, excluding opposition leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo, observers said Sunday.
The military regime announced Friday that it would release 6,313 prisoners from the country’s jails as a “gesture” of sympathy towards their families and to allow them to participate in the upcoming general election of 2010.

The announcement came one day after the departure of UN Rapporteur for Human Rights Tomas Ojea Quintana, who spent six days in Myanmar attempting to persuade the junta to free its estimated 2,100 political prisoners, including Suu Kyi and Tin Oo, who have been kept under house arrest since May 2003.

Tin Oo, deputy chief of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), had his detention extended another year on the eve of Quintana’s arrival in Yangon Feb 14.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, who heads the NLD - the main opposition party that won the 1990 general election but has been denied power by the military - has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

The prison releases began Saturday.

Of the hundreds already freed, at least 19 were identified as political prisoners by The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Myanmar).

They included Zaw Myint Maung, an elected member of parliament from Kachin State for the NLD who has been in jail since 1991, and 18 other fairly low-ranking party members and activists.

“So far no prominent political prisoners has been released,” one government official said. “Most of the prisoners released Saturday were just criminals.”

One woman released Saturday from Yangon’s notorious Insein prison had served two years of a 35-year sentence for drug dealing. Another prisoner released from the jail had served two out of a three-year sentence for dealing in illegal lotteries.

The amnesty came days before Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein will attend the 14th Summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Thailand next week.

Myanmar’s junta plans to hold an election on 2010 to answer the international community’s call for democracy in the country.

But the planned polls have been criticised as pointless, since a military-drafted constitution pushed though last year assures the military control over an elected government through appointed seats in the upper and lower houses.

On Sunday, the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), a coalition of 12 ethnic political parties in Myanmar, declared their decision to not contest the 2010 polls.

“Until and unless the military regime shows its sincere will to make positive changes and start an all-parties inclusive process of democratisation and national reconciliation, we will not participate in the 2010 election and we will not recognise that election as legitimate,” the UNA said in a statement.

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