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Dissidents among Myanmar inmate release: activists
Agence France Presse - July 3, 2012
The 88 Generation Students Group, which played a key part in a 1988 uprising against the former junta, said political inmates held around the country were among a group of 46 prisoners authorities began to release on Tuesday morning.
"We received confirmation about 20 political prisoners are part of today's amnesty," 88 Generation student leader Kaung Kaung told AFP.
A report in the English-language New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Tuesday said 37 men and nine women were being set free "with a view to ensuring the stability of the state and making eternal peace, national reconciliation, enabling all to participate in political process".
The move comes shortly after a Myanmar minister pledged further amnesties for jailed dissidents during a high profile European tour by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month.
According to the 88 Generation, the prisoner release included Aye Aung, considered by Amnesty International to be a "prisoner of conscience".
He was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to 59 years – later reduced to 29 years – on charges including violating the emergency act as well as illegally printing and distributing leaflets.
Suu Kyi, herself freed from seven straight years of house arrest in 2010 and now an elected politician, on Tuesday said her party believes there are 330 political prisoners still behind bars, although estimates on the exact number vary.
Myanmar freed more than 300 political prisoners in January, a move which prompted the United States to pledge to restore full diplomatic ties. About 200 others were let out in October 2011.
Suu Kyi used her long-awaited acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway last month to call for the release of Myanmar's remaining political prisoners, warning of the risk that "the unknown ones will be forgotten".
Days later Industry Minister Soe Thane told AFP in Oslo that the government was considering releasing "the rest of the people" and was reviewing cases to ensure nobody guilty of a violent crime would be set free.
Myanmar, which languished for decades under a repressive junta, has announced a series of reforms since a controversial 2010 election brought a civilian government to power – albeit one with close links to the military.
Changes, including dissident releases and the welcoming of Suu Kyi and her party into the political mainstream, have led to tough Western sanctions being loosened and raised hopes of more steps towards democracy.
"There should be no political prisoners when we are building a democratic nation. We hope the rest will also be released," another 88 Generation leader, Ko Ko Gyi, told AFP.
State media on Tuesday also announced a further 34 foreign prisoners would be deported.
A senior prison department official told AFP these were Bangladeshi citizens who had served only a few days of their three year sentences under the immigration act, without giving further details.