Myanmar to free prisoners ahead of Obama visit | News | DW | 15.11.2012
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Myanmar to free prisoners ahead of Obama visit

Officials in Myanmar say the country plans to free more than 400 prisoners ahead of a landmark visit by US President Barack Obama. They say dissidents will be among those released.

State media and officials in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, said 452 prisoners would be freed on Thursday with the "intent to help promote goodwill and the bilateral relationship" with the United States.

A Home Ministry official said "prisoners of conscience" would be among those let out of prison. Myanmar has already freed hundreds of political prisoners held by the former junta as part of reforms that have led to a dramatic thaw in relations between it and the West.

However, the Thailand-based campaign group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said its checks had so far failed to find any instances of political prisoners being released this time round.

Families of political prisoners are often told by the authorities to prepare for their release, but AAPP representative Bo Kyi said he was not aware of any being given such notice.

Historic visit

US President Obama is scheduled to travel to Myanmar on Monday, becoming the first sitting US president to visit the country. He is to hold talks with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a former political prisoner released in 2010.

Myanmar has hailed the visit as a sign of confidence in reforms introduced by a nominally civilian government that replaced the junta in March 2011.

The US eased sanctions on Myanmar this year in recognition of the political and economic changes that have taken place under the new government. However, Obama risks criticism from human rights groups for rewarding the country too soon, as it still holds many dissidents behind bars.

The AAPP put the current figure for political prisoners at 283 in a list posted on its website on October 31.

Myanmar has also still failed to solve the problem of ethnic violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the country's impoverished west, which has claimed 180 lives since June and made more than 110,000 homeless, most of them Rohingya Muslims.

tj/kms (Reuters, AFP)