11/15/2012, 00.00
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For Obama's visit, the Burmese government frees 450 prisoners

by Francis Khoo Thwe
In all likelihood, they are common prisoners and dissidents. For experts it is a gesture of "good will" in view of the visit of the U.S. President. Former political prisoner describes the amnesty as a "bargaining chip" with the West. Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar "has not yet reached the goal of a full democracy."

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The reformist government of Burma has ordered the release of 450 prisoners who will be later today. Analysts and experts of national policy emphasize that the amnesty is a gesture of good will, in view of the historic official visit of U.S. President Barack Obama - recently confirmed for a second term - to Myanmar scheduled for next week. So far it has not been confirmed whether political prisoners will be among the inmates who leave the cell today, but in the past amnesties issued by reformist President Thein Sein have included prisoners of conscience and common criminals.

The release of (some) political prisoners is a key characteristic of the process of democratization being led by the country's head of state, after five decades of the military regime that oppressed the former Burma. Among others, there is the abolition of censorship on publications, the enactment of laws that allow public demonstrations (peaceful) and union membership.

AsiaNews sources in the country confirm the feeling of "greater freedom" in a country in "rapid evolution in the short space of a year." More travel opportunities and fewer controls, the rapid spread of mobile phones, when in the past they were reserved for only the elite, the growth of the economy, are now a fact of life. The changes have prompted Western governments, including Washington, to cancel, or remove some economic and trade sanctions on Myanmar, giving rise to a new phase in relations with Naypyidaw.

Until April 2011, the transfer of power from the military junta to a semi-civilian government - although controlled by the army, which has a majority in Parliament - there were 2 thousand political prisoners in the country.  Opposition movements and activists in exile point out that "there are still at least 330 prisoners of conscience" in Burmese prisons.

However, there are critical voices like that of Ko Ko Gyi, a former political prisoner, who claim that Thein Sein has implemented a "strategic use" of the release of prisoners, considered as a "bargaining chip" if the "timing" of the amnesty is taken into consideration. The last amnesty was in September, just days before the President's historic trip to the U.S. to attend the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.

Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the most famous of the political prisoners in Burma, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest has also intervened on the issue. On the sidelines of a visit to India, the "Lady" asked for caution in judging the reforms promoted by the Burmese government, stressing that the country "has not yet reached the goal of a full democracy."


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