Myanmar starts releasing over 6,000 prisoners under amnesty

February 21st, 2009 - 7:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Yangon, Feb 21 (DPA) Myanmar authorities Saturday began to free prisoners from Yangon’s notorious Insein jail, including some political prisoners, under a government amnesty for 6,313 inmates nationwide.
Eyewitnesses saw scores of prisoners leaving Insein Saturday evening. Among them were Thet Wai, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and five other low-ranking opposition members.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her deputy Tin Oo have apparently been excluded from the amnesty. Suu Kyi and Tin Oo have been under house arrest since mid-2003.

Tin Oo’s detention was extended by a year on the eve of the arrival of UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Tomas Ojea Quintana Feb 14 for a six-day visit.

Quintana’s mission aimed at persuading Myanmar’s ruling junta to release an estimated 2,100 political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, before its planned election in 2010.

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

The regime has now granted an amnesty for prisoners, but not necessarily the ones Quintana was concerned about.

The government said in a statement that the release of the 6,313 prisoners was being made on humanitarian grounds and as a “gesture” of sympathy towards their families.

Those released would be able “to serve the interests of the regions and their own, the nation, and to participate in the fair election to be held in the year 2010 together with the people after realising the government’s compassion and goodwill,” the statement said.

The amnesty, which comes 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, has met with scepticism from abroad.

France and Britain Friday strongly criticised Myanmar’s military regime for failing to implement democratic reform and freeing political prisoners, even though the government has announced the amnesty for 6,313 prisoners.

France’s UN Ambassador Jean Maurice Ripert said in New York that Ibrahim Gambari, the special envoy of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, had not obtained progress demanded by the international community.

Gambari, who was in Myanmar in January, met the 15-nation UN Security Council to report on his trip. But Ripert said progress in the talks presented by Gambari were “very thin and disappointing”.

Gambari spoke to reporters following the closed-door session with the council, saying that he had not seen “tangible outcomes” from his visit. He said the UN secretary general’s good offices role is appreciated by the government of Myanmar as well as the people there, including opposition leader Suu Kyi.

The UN had demanded the junta to implement democratic reform and meet benchmarks like the release of all political prisoners and institute

national reconciliation and democratic elections.

In particular it has called for the release of Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD, who has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years.

British Ambassador John Sawers said Gambari had “better access” in his last visit.

“We regret that there was no real progress,” Sawers told reporters. “In fact, the situation has gone backwards.”

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