Myanmar’s government is preparing to release prisoners under an amnesty, for the second time in just over a month, “very soon” – and more political detainees should be among them, a senior official said on Sunday.
Details of the amnesty would become clear within two days, the official at the interior ministry told Reuters, and political detainees, sometimes called “prisoners of conscience,” would be included.
“Of course, those referred to as prisoners of conscience will be released very, very soon and the rest of them will be moved to the detention centres close to their families,” said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“Just wait for a day or two to see the details,” he added, declining to say whether prominent activists would be among those who are freed.
Myanmar’s new civilian government, which took office on March 30, freed about 230 political detainees in a general amnesty on Oct. 12, a move welcomed by the West as sign that the former generals in charge might start to ease their strict control of the country after five decades of military rule.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday there were signs that Myanmar was making “real changes” and if all political prisoners were freed and reforms introduced, the United States was willing to become its “partner.”
If the amnesty goes ahead in the next two days, it would coincide with the start of an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.
It would strengthen Myanmar’s case for taking the rotating ASEAN presidency in 2014, two years ahead of schedule.
Analysts say hosting the summit would help to satisfy the government’s craving for legitimacy and help it present a case for concrete assistance from international financial institutions to overhaul the resource-rich country’s long-stagnant economy.
It also comes as an open letter to President Thein Sein was published in state-controlled newspapers on Sunday, calling for political prisoners to be freed. Such newspapers are tightly controlled by the government and have for decades served as mouthpieces for the military junta.
The letter, from the chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, Win Mra, said that there were about 500 political prisoners who should all be freed. Those who could not be released should be transferred to facilities close to their families, he said.
Recent overtures by the government have included calls for peace with ethnic minority rebel groups, some tolerance of criticism in the media and direct contact between Thein Sein and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released last year from 15 years of house arrest.
The United States, Europe and Australia have made the release of political prisoners a key condition before they would consider lifting sanctions imposed on the pariah nation.
Myanmar has long been accused of dragging down ASEAN and hindering its progress towards becoming an EU-style community by 2015. However, many analysts and diplomats believe another amnesty before the summit would forestall criticism.
“So far as I heard it will come tomorrow in good time before President Thein Sein leaves for the ASEAN summit,” said an Asian diplomat, who asked not to be identified.
“It surely will help the president save face at the summit,” he added.
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel) Myanmar to free more political prisoners “soon”
By Aung Hla Tun YANGON, Nov 13 (Reuters) -