More than 100 political prisoners released

Sept 21, 2009 (DVB), At least 115 activists, politicians and journalists were among the 7000 prisoners released by the Burmese junta last week, according to an exiled prisoner advocacy group.

Included in the amnesty on Thursday was Eint Khaing Oo, a journalist who was imprisoned following her reporting on cyclone Nargis last May.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said that 41 members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were released, as well as four imprisoned monks.

The amnesty, which was made "on humanitarian grounds", according to the government, comes a week before the Burmese prime minister, Thein Sein, is due to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

A spokesperson for UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that he welcomed the amnesty, although stressed that all political prisoners should be released "as a necessary step towards a credible process of national reconciliation and democratic transition".

A number of critics have said however that the amnesty will be used by the junta to give it a cosmetic lift prior to the UN meeting.

"This is the junta trying to make bad things appear good. It's like putting make-up on a dead person's face," said senior NLD member Win Tin.

His comments were echoed by one of the prisoners released last week, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) who was sentenced in 1998 to 17 years imprisonment.

"It's hard to say whether they are doing this because they were really willing to make changes in the country or are just trying to escape the pressure they were under," he said.

"I spent 11 years, seven months and 21 days behind walls. I take this as my arrival to a place with a limited kind of freedom from a place with no physical or mental freedom; I don't really feel any different.

The prisoners were released under an agreement known as Section 401, which under Burmese law acts as a suspended sentence.

"Because I had to sign the section 401, I feel like I was being released with a leash still on," said Arakan League for Democracy member Khaing Kaung Zan. "There is no honesty with the release. . . I don't feel any happy about this."

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw and Thurein Soe

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