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Burma prisoner amnesty ‘to avoid Security Council action’

July 14, 2009 (DVB), Burma is setting in motion plans to release prisoners in lieu of the 2010 elections, said the Burmese ambassador to the UN yesterday at a Security Council briefing given by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

The comments followed criticism from Ban Ki-moon of the Burmese government's commitment to democratic reform after he was twice refused a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi during his recent visit to Burma.

"At the request of the Secretary General, the Myanmar [Burma] government is processing to grant amnesty to prisoners on humanitarian grounds and with a view to enabling them to participate in the 2010 general elections," ambassador U Than Swe told the Security Council.

However, observers are concerned that the government is using the amnesty in order to avoid Security Council action.

"Whenever they receive strong international pressure the Burmese government always says they are preparing to release political prisoners," said Bo Kyi, secretary of Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP).

"We cannot believe their promise – they are just scared of Security Council action so they try to divide the international community and buy time."

Than Swe did not however specifically state that those to be released are political prisoners. The Burmese government has repeatedly attempted to dodge criticism by denying that it holds 'political prisoners', instead that all of Burma's prisoners are common criminals.

Similarly, Than Swe declined to comment on how many political prisoners would be released and whether the amnesty would extend to Aung San Suu Kyi, but said that the Burmese government will "implement all appropriate recommendations that [the] Secretary General had proposed."

As well as the release of political prisoners, Ban Ki-moon urged the start of dialogue between the government and opposition groups, and that elections next year be free and fair.

The Burmese government has previously granted an amnesty to prisoners following a visit by UN human rights rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana. Over 6,000 prisoners were released but only around 30 had been charged on political grounds.

According to AAPP, over 2,160 prisoners remain languishing in Burma's notorious prisons, 472 of which are members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

Reporting by Alex Ellgee


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