Myanmar junta announces amnesty for 6,000 prisoners

February 20th, 2009 - 9:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Yangon, Feb 20 (DPA) Myanmar’a junta announced an amnesty Friday for more than 6,000 prisoners, although it remained unclear how many political prisoners were included, Naypyitaw radio reported.
“For the humanitarian reasons, for the sake of the family members, to demonstrate the goodwill of the government and to be able to allow fair participation in the upcoming 2010 free and fair general election, Myanmar government will release 6,313 prisoners starting from Feb 21,” the announcement said.

The announcement was made the day after the conclusion of UN special Rapporteur on Human Rights Tomas Ojea Quintana’s six-day visit to Myanmar.

The television announcement did not say whether political prisoners including opposition leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo will be included in the amnesty.

Prisoners to be released Saturday include “good disciplined” ones, the announcement said.

Quintana concluded his visit to Myanmar Thursday, noting at the airport upon his departure that “the human rights situation in Myanmar is still challenging”.

The junta refused to allow Quintana to meet with either Aung San Suu Kyi, the longstanding leader of the opposition, or Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Than Shwe during the trip.

Quintana arrived Saturday on a mission to push for the freedom of an estimated 2,100 political prisoners, including Suu Kyi who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest, and to assess abuses against ethnic minority groups opposed to the regime.

The UN human rights envoy travelled to the junta’s headquarters in Naypyitaw Wednesday where he met Myanmar’s interior minister to push for the freedom of political prisoners.

“He said he will consider my recommendations,” Quintana told a press conference.

Quintana also met Myanmar’s chief justice and attorney general, who said they would consider amending some national laws to be more in keeping with international standards, although he received no firm commitments.

While in Myanmar, the UN rapporteur on human rights also visited jails in the Karen State, home to some of the country’s most prolonged unrest, and the notorious Insein prison in Yangon, meeting with several political prisoners.

On the eve of Quintana’s arrival in Yangon Saturday, Myanmar authorities sentenced Tin Oo, the 82-year-old deputy leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), to another year under house arrest.

Critics of the UN visit called it a “showboat” mission for the junta, permitting it to improve its image at the 14th summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in Thailand later this month.

While allowing the visit, the regime sent a clear message to Quintana that it will continue to brook no domestic political opposition.

Besides slapping another year on to Tin Oo’s house arrest Friday, the day before Quintana’s arrival, Myanmar courts sentenced NLD members Nyi Bu and Tin Min Htut to 15 years for sending an open letter to the UN in August that was critical of the military’s plans to set up a civilian government.

Quintana hoped to persuade the junta to free hundreds of political prisoners before a scheduled general election in 2010.

His mission was to encourage the regime to progressively release “prisoners of conscience”, giving independence to the judiciary, bringing laws into line with international human rights standards and training officials to respect these rights, according to a statement released by the UN in Geneva.

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