Burma releases 7000 prisoners

Sept 17, 2009 (DVB), More than 7000 prisoners in Burma have today been released in a "goodwill" gesture by the ruling junta, although it remains unclear whether any political prisoners were included.

The amnesty for 7,114 prisoners was announced late today via a scrolling text during a soap opera on state-run television.

The government said that those included in the amnesty had shown "good conduct and discipline" and were being released for the benefit of their families.

Whether any of the 2,200-plus political prisoners being held in Burma were released is not known. The ruling junta often dismisses allegations that it is holding political prisoners by claiming that only common criminals populate the country's 43 jails.

Burma's ambassador to the United Nations, U Than Swe, told the Security Council in July that plans were being made to release prisoners "with a view to enabling them to participate in the 2010 general elections".

The announcement followed a visit to Burma by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who used a rare meeting with the junta leaders to push for release of political prisoners.

Than Swe declined to say, however, whether any of those mentioned for the amnesty would be political prisoners.

The United States has repeatedly said that the release of the thousands of imprisoned activists, journalists and politicians is a prerequisite for any potential engagement between the two countries.

The regime came under international condemnation in August when it sentenced the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Aung San Suu Kyi, to a further 18 months under house.

A report released by US-based Human Rights Watch this week said that the number of political prisoners in Burma had doubled since the September 2007 monk-led uprising.

The group said that unless all political prisoners are released soon, the elections scheduled for March 2010 will "hold no credibility".

Reporting by Francis Wade

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