British Foreign Minister William Hague Requests Release Of Political Prisoners On His Historic Burma Visit

Burma has vowed to free more political prisoners, William Hague said after meeting his counterpart during the first visit to Burma by a UK foreign secretary for 55 years.

William Hague: Burma to free more 'political prisoners'

Burma has vowed to free more political prisoners, William Hague said after meeting his counterpart during the first visit to Burma by a UK foreign secretary for 55 years.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, front left, is greeted upon his arrival at Naypyitaw International Airport by Myanmar officials Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Hague began a two-day visit to Myanmar Thursday.

Wunna Maung Lwi also promised that changes in Burma were "irreversible".

But he later did not use the word political when referring to prisoners.

Mr Hague's visit is the latest by top world diplomats after Burma's first elections in 20 years which brought in a nominally civilian government.

Since then the new administration has freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and begun a process of dialogue.

Last month she formally registered her National League for Democracy as a political party, after boycotting the 2010 polls because of electoral laws that prevented her taking part.

In December US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma, in what was seen as an endorsement of the reform process - although Western observers say much more is needed.

Stress on development

Mr Hague is the first British foreign secretary to visit Burma since 1955.

In the capital Nay Pyi Taw he was due to hold talks with President Thein Sein, a former top general who stepped down to contest the polls as a civilian, and a host of other top officials.

He will then travel to Rangoon, Burma's commercial capital, to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, representatives of some of Burma's ethnic minority groups and dissidents.

Ms Suu Kyi's party plans to contest by-elections in April that could see her elected to parliament. Her party secured a landslide victory in polls in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

William Hague made the comments after meeting his counterpart in Nay Pyi Taw.

"The foreign minister has reaffirmed commitments that have been made to release political prisoners," he told reporters.

"He said the changes are irreversible and I welcome that way of thinking," Mr Hague added.

"I stressed that the world will judge the government by its actions."

But in an interview with the BBC Burmese service later, Wunna Maung Lwi said Burma did not acknowledge there were political prisoners.

They are all criminals, he said, and it was up to the president to decide when prisoners were released - adding that prisoners had already been freed on three recent occasions.

The government, he said, was focused on the development of the whole country.

Between 600 and 1,000 journalists, dissidents and monks who led anti-government protests in 2007 are thought to remain behind bars in Burma.

There is now a general acceptance that change is under way in Burma, says the BBC's Rachel Harvey in Rangoon, but it is not clear how far or how fast any transition will be.

And the different account of the talks by the two senior diplomats may merely be explained by the different audiences they were addressing, says our correspondent.