UN urges Myanmar to free all political prisoners

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The UN rights envoy for Myanmar on Thursday urged authorities there to free all political prisoners after a Rangoon amnesty that left most key dissidents behind bars.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, welcomed the pardon granted to an estimated 200 political prisoners but urged Rangoon to free the hundreds who remain locked up.

"I see this development as an important further step by the authorities in Myanmar to respond to international concern and advance political reconciliation in the country," the UN rights expert said in a statement.

However the special rapporteur "expressed his concern at the continuing detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience, many of whom are suffering serious health problems from the harsh conditions of their detention."

"These are individuals who have been imprisoned for exercising their fundamental human rights or whose fair trial or due process rights have been denied," Quintana said.

"Their release would be an important step for the democratic transition, and would be welcomed by people both inside and outside the country. It is imperative that the government completes the liberation of all such prisoners."

Observers said the amnesty may be the first of a series by a regime that appears to want to end its international isolation, but the Myanmar opposition voiced frustration.

Many leading dissidents, including key figures involved in a failed 1988 student-led uprising, as well as journalists, monks and lawyers, remain locked up.

© 2011 AFP

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