Myanmar President Thein Sein pardons 56 more political prisoners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 4:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 4:42am

Myanmar's president pardoned 56 political prisoners yesterday, a move apparently timed to highlight the government's reforms ahead of a regional summit as well as important negotiations with a rebel group at home.

President Thein Sein ordered the release just ahead of a forum in Brunei to be attended by leaders from across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Myanmar is expected to face tough questions at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit about ongoing sectarian violence that has targeted Muslims.

It has become a pattern for prisoner amnesties in Myanmar to coincide with high-profile international meetings as a way of highlighting the nominally civilian government's reforms since taking office after years of absolute military rule.

A member of the government's political prisoner scrutiny committee, Ye Aung, said those released included people from several ethnic minorities.

Among those freed were more than a dozen ethnic Kachin, a move that intentionally coincided with peace talks held yesterday in Kachin state between government negotiators and the ethnic Kachin Independence Army.

The Kachin are the only major rebel group that has not reached a ceasefire agreement with Thein Sein's government.

Hundreds of prominent political detainees have been freed since Thein Sein, a former general, took office.

Ye Aung, a former prisoner himself, said more than 130 political prisoners are still believed to be jailed.

In July, Thein Sein pledged during an official visit to Britain to release all remaining political prisoners by the end of the year.