Myanmar frees prisoners, few dissidents


Yangoon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar's military junta freed about 500 of the nearly 4,000 prisoners it promised to release, this according to eyewitness accounts. There was no certain word on whether political detainees were among them—the newly freed appeared to be people sentenced to short terms of one or two years for criminal offences—but relatives of some political prisoners said that fewer than 30 of them have been released. Min Ko Naing, the now 42-year-old leader of student democracy protests the military suppressed ruthlessly in 1989, was one of them.

The mass release came a day after state media announced that more than 5,300 prisoners would be freed in addition to the 3.937 people jailed "inappropriately" who were promised freedom by the junta last week.

How the release of prisoners is being done has come in for criticism. Relatives of other dissidents said that none of them were freed last Saturday. However, Kyaw Thu, Myanmar's Deputy Foreign Minister, said that his government will keep its promise. "If we fail to keep our word," he said, "then we will face more pressure, not only from our side, but from the West." Any delay, he added, was due to logistical reasons.

Dissidents and human rights groups estimate that Myanmar has up to 1,400 political prisoners. Expectations are high that Aung San Suu Kyi, icon of the National League for Democracy and Nobel Prize winner, might also be freed.

Win Tin, Ms Suu Kyi's closest aide until he was jailed in 1989, is also expected to be freed. "Win Tin is already on the list," Kyaw Thu said. The Minister could not however say whether Ms Suu Kyi who is under house arrest since May 2003 would be freed. (MA)