Burma Releases Senior Dissidents

A number of high-profile dissidents have been set free in Burma in the latest in a series of prisoner amnesties.

High-profile dissidents freed in Burma amnesty

A number of high-profile dissidents have been set free in Burma in the latest in a series of prisoner amnesties.

BURMA

Leaders of the 1988 student protests, a prominent ethnic leader and some journalists are among those released.

A former prime minister detained in a purge in 2004 has also been freed from house arrest.

State television announced on Thursday that a total of 651 prisoners would be freed under a new presidential pardon.

It did not say how many would be political prisoners, but Burma has faced calls from the international community to free more dissidents.

'Positive sign'

A veteran member of Burma's 88 Generation Students, Nilar Thein, confirmed to the BBC that she had been freed from Tharya Wadi prison.

The activist served eight years in prison after the 1988 demonstrations and was jailed again in 2007 for 65 years for illegally using electronic media.

She said she had been released along with 10 other political prisoners, but that 25 more remained in prison.

Her husband, Kyaw Min Yu, known as Ko Jimmy, has also been freed, as well as Htay Kywe, a student activist also jailed in 2007 for 65 years.

Unconfirmed reports also suggest that Min Ko Naing, the highest-profile student leader from the failed 1988 pro-democracy uprising, has also been freed.

U Khun Tun Oo, the most senior political representative of the Shan, the largest of Burma's ethnic minorities, has also been freed.

The party of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the move was a "positive sign".

"We welcome the release. Some [dissidents] are on their way home already," AFP news agency quoted a spokesman as saying, without further details.

The brother in law of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt told the BBC that he had been released from house arrest. He has been under detention since 2004.

Reform process

Burma's new government has freed a number of political prisoners since embarking on a process of reform.

The military-backed civilian government came to power in November 2010, after the country's first elections in 20 years. Before that Burma was governed by a military junta.

It has freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and entered into dialogue with her and her National League for Democracy party. Ms Suu Kyi is now expected to stand for parliament in a by-election in April.

Western nations have welcomed the reform process but called on the government to release political prisoners and resolve ethnic conflicts in border regions before sanctions can be eased.

No official tally of the number of political prisoners is available but opposition groups within Burma say between 600 and 1,000 remain in custody.

Hopes of a significant release were raised on Thursday when the announcement said detainees would be freed so they could help in the task of nation building.

The releases come a day after the government signed a landmark ceasefire with a rebel group.

The ceasefire was agreed at talks with the Karen National Union (KNU) in Hpa-an, capital of eastern Karen state. The Karen have fought for greater autonomy for more than 60 years.