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Myanmar amnesty begins as 87 political prisoners walk

Myanmar has released 87 political prisoners. The amnesty comes ahead of President Thein Sein's attendance at the United Nations General Assembly, which he is scheduled to address on September 26.

On Monday, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, had announced an amnesty for 514 prisoners. A spokesman for the Former Political Prisoners Association said Tuesday that at least 87 of those had been released.

"We cannot accept the government releasing political prisoners step by step," said Ant Bwe Kyaw, a leader of the 88 Generation student movement, which was brutally suppressed by Myanmar's military junta, in power from 1962 to 2010.

Also pardoned were 83 Thais imprisoned since July in the border province of Kaw Thaung on charges of land encroachment and illegal possession of drugs and weapons. Nine facing firearms charges were not released, the Thai News Agency reported.

Encouraging signs

Myanmar released 600 political prisoners in 2011. The country has engaged in political and economic reforms since Thein Sein took office that March. Other nations have long demanded the release of all political prisoners before economic sanctions are lifted on Myanmar.

The US and European Union eased sanctions earlier this year.

Thein Sein will be Myanmar's first leader to attend the General Assembly in decades. Some rights groups say that the release seems timed for the trip.

Myanmar's pro-democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi is currently in the United States for a comprehensive tour. She will attend nearly 100 events across the country and is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. The opposition figure, recently elected a member of parliament after years under house arrest, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday.

mkg/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)