Amnesty for 6,300 Burmese prisoners

Burma's president has granted amnesty to more than 6,300 prisoners, state radio and television announced today, in what appears to be the biggest step so far in a series of reform actions undertaken by the new elected government.

The broadcasts said the releases would begin tomorrow - a religious holiday - but did not specify how many political detainees were among the 6,359 receiving an amnesty from President Thein Sein.

The release of at least some of the country's estimated 2,000 political prisoners has been hotly anticipated as a crucial step in liberalising measures implemented by the military-backed but elected government which took power in March.

Most prominent political prisoners are held in facilities far from the country's main city of Rangoon, a policy implemented under the previous military regime apparently to limit their ability to communicate through visiting family members and lawyers.

The broadcasts said a list of the prisoners had been prepared, but it was not read out.

Burma's tightly controlled state newspapers had published an appeal this morning for a release of political prisoners, a sign that the move had official blessing.

The appeal in the three state newspapers, which closely reflect government positions, was an open letter from the government-appointed National Human Rights Commission calling on Mr Thein Sein to grant an amnesty as a gesture of magnanimity.

Burma's long-ruling military government handed over power in March to an elected administration, which is seen as remaining closely aligned with the military but which has declared its intention to liberalise the country's hardline policies.

The United States believes Burma's elections were flawed but has been encouraged by its liberalising trend since the civilian administration took power, the highest-ranking American diplomat for Asia said yesterday.



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