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Myanmar President Thein Sein pledges to free all political prisoners

During a historic visit to Britain, Myanmar President Thein Sein has pledged to free all political prisoners by the end of the year. Britain's prime minister welcomed the news and urged further human rights actions.

"I guarantee to you that by the end of this year there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar," Presdient Thein Sein told an audience at the Chatham House think-tank in London.

"We are aiming for nothing less than a transition from half a century of military rule and authoritarianism to democracy."

Since taking office in 2011, Thein Sein, a former military commander, has freed hundreds of political prisoners in a swathe of reforms. He also welcomed democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party into parliament.

As a result, the European Union has dropped most sanctions except an arms embargo.

Host, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, "We very much welcome the reform process you are undertaking in your country and look forward to free, fair and open elections in 2015."

Thein Sein also said he was close to brokering a nationwide ceasefire that could end long-running ethnic conflicts that have festered since the country won independence from Britain in 1948.

"Very possibly over the coming weeks we will have a nationwide ceasefire and the guns will go silent everywhere in Myanmar for the very first time in over 60 years," he said.

Historic visit

The visit held historical significance as Thein Sein is the first leader of Myanmar to visit Britain in more than 25 years. Last year, Britain's Cameron became the first British prime minister to visit Myanmar.

Early on during their talks, Cameron urged the president to take a hard line on defending human rights.

"As well as the continuation of your reform process, we are also very keen to see greater action in terms of promoting human rights and dealing with regional conflicts,” he said.

"We are particularly concerned about what has happened in Rakhine province and the Rohingya Muslims."

Last year, clashes in the western state of Rakhine between Buddhists and Muslims left more than 200 people dead and about 150,000 people displaced. Most of those killed were from Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority who are denied citizenship by Myanmar.

Thein Sein promised to take a "zero tolerance approach" to people who "fuel ethnic hatreds."

Myanmar is eager for the western investments to help its economy recover from decades of dictatorship and international sanctions.

During their meeting, Cameron said Britain was keen to foster more economic ties with Myanmar. "We believe there are many areas for Britain and your country to cooperate together, diplomatically, in terms of trade and investment.

hc/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)