UN welcomes release of political prisoners

Sep 25, 2008 (DVB), The United Nations secretary-general and special rapporteur on Burma have welcomed the release of seven political prisoners, though the UN chief also called for more comprehensive steps towards political freedom.

The Burmese government announced on 23 September that 9002 prisoners had been granted amnesty for good behaviour.

Seven political prisoners , U Win Tin, U Aung Soe Myint, U Win Htein, Dr Than Nyein, Dr May Win Myint, U Khin Maung Swe and U Thein Naing , were among those released, though Win Htein is reported to have been re-arrested.

The UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said the move marked "a positive sign of cooperation".

"The Special Rapporteur has proposed to the Government four core human rights elements to help pave the road to democracy," a UN statement said yesterday.

"One of these concerned the progressive release of all prisoners of conscience, starting with the elderly, those with health limitations and long-serving prisoners."

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the release of the political prisoners, but said the comprehensive release of all those detained for their political activities was needed.

"The Secretary-General reiterates that all political prisoners should be released and that all citizens of Myanmar should be able to enjoy political freedoms, as necessary steps towards the process of national reconciliation and dialogue," read a UN statement released yesterday.

"He looks forward to any further action by the Myanmar Government in this regard."

But pro-democracy groups have downplayed the significance of the releases, highlighting the high number of political prisoners who remain behind bars.

Tate Naing of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said the regime had previously released small numbers of prisoners as a gesture in response to international pressure.

National League for Democracy spokesperson Nyan Win said that those freed were already overdue for release and that there was no indication that the junta had changed its stance towards the opposition.

Reporting by Si√¢n Thomas

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