Burma to free thousands of prisoners

BURMA is to grant an amnesty to more than 6300 prisoners, state media announced today, without saying whether political detainees would be included.

The news came just hours after a government-appointed human rights panel called for a pardon for the country’s “prisoners of conscience”, who are estimated by rights groups to number about 2000.

The National Human Rights Commission said freeing prisoners “who do not pose a threat to the stability of state” would allow them to participate in “nation-building”, according to an official English-language newspaper.

According to state television, 6359 prisoners will receive an amnesty starting from tomorrow.

Yesterday a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that political prisoners were expected to be released within days.

 The release of the country’s estimated 2000 political detainees, who include pro-democracy campaigners, journalists and lawyers, has long been a top demand of Western nations that have imposed sanctions on Burma.

Their release would be one of the clearest yet signs of reform by a new leadership that has reached out to critics including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, freed in November after seven straight years of detention.

A top US official, Kurt Campbell, yesterday hailed recent developments in Burma, including what he described as “very consequential dialogue” between Suu Kyi and the leadership.

He hinted that concrete moves towards democracy by Burma could lead to an easing of sanctions.

“We will match their steps with comparable steps,” Mr Campbell added.

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