Monday, May 2, 2011

Official says Burma to grant amnesty to prisoners

RANGOON, BURMA - May 02 2011 12:47

Burma's new military-backed government is preparing to grant an amnesty to some prisoners, an official said on Monday, but it was unclear whether they would include political dissidents.

The move is expected to coincide with President Thein Sein's visit to Indonesia from Thursday to attend a summit of south-east Asian leaders, his first overseas trip since he was sworn in as head of state on March 30.

"Some prisoners will be released around the time of the president's first state visit," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and did not provide further details.

According to the London-based human rights group Amnesty International there are more than 2 200 political prisoners in Burma being held under vague laws frequently used to criminalise peaceful political activists.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November shortly after an election that led to the handover of power from the military to a nominally civilian government.

Her release was welcomed worldwide, but Western governments who impose sanctions on Burma have urged the new government to do more to demonstrate its commitment to improving its much criticised human rights record.

Thein Sein, who was prime minister under the now-disbanded junta headed by former leader General Than Shwe, is one of a group of generals who shed their army uniforms to successfully stand in the November poll.

The election, Burma's first in 20 years, was criticised by the opposition and the West as anything but free and fair, and the military still wields considerable power in the impoverished south-east Asian nation. -- AFP