Burma frees high-profile dissidents in prisoner amnesty

Burma on Friday said it had freed 651 prisoners, including students, political activists, opposition figures and army dissidents, the London Telegraph reported.

The prisoners were released under a presidential pardon that appears to be a bid by Burmese officials to allay international criticism over rights abuses, and to have European sanctions lifted.

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Those freed included Min Ko Naing, one of the prominent leaders of a failed pro-democracy uprising in 1988, and former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who had been under house arrest since 2004, the BBC reported.

Also freed was Nilar Thein, a member of Burma's 88 Generation Students, who was jailed for eight years in 1988, and then re-sentenced to another 65 years in 2008 for illegally using electronic media.

Thein told the BBC Friday that she had been freed from Tharya Wadi prison:

"I'm healthy and happy to be released and happy to see my baby … I was released today along with nine other political prisoners in Tharya Wadi prison but there are still 25 more left inside."

Officials said that Shin Gambira – the Buddhist monk and one of the leaders of the 2007 street protests – was among those released, the Telegraph reported.

While prominent Shan minority leaders, including Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary Shan Nationalities' League for Democracy, were also reportedly set free.

Lwin – who confirmed that other leaders of his group has been released from various prisons across Burma – said he was unemotional at being released because he should never have been jailed, the Democratic Voice of Burma website reported.

"I didn’t commit any of the crimes they accused me of – there was no national treason. I have wasted seven years of my life for something I didn’t do and there’s nothing to be happy about now.”

Although Burmese officials have not said how many of the 651 are political prisoners, media reports say the amnesty may be the most significant step in Burma's efforts for reform.

The move comes after last week's visit to Rangoon by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who told Burmese president Thein Sein that European Union sanctions could be lifted in April.

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Conditions for this included the release of all political prisoners, humanitarian access being granted to areas of tribal conflict, and the holding of free and fair by-elections in April, the Telegraph reported.

The amnesty also comes after the world’s longest-running insurgency ended Thursday when a ceasefire was signed between the government and rebel leaders of the Karen minority.

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