Myanmar has released dozens of political prisoners, mostly members of ethnic organizations, as peace talks are held with Kachin rebels. The move comes ahead of a high profile regional summit in Brunei.

Of those who were released, some 18 were said to be Kachin rebels, with detainees from other ethnic groups also among those freed. The activist group Former Political Prisoners said some of those released on Tuesday were also believed to be from the eastern Shan state.

“Most of the 56 prisoners released today are members of ethnic organizations,” said Aung Min, a minister from the president’s office.

In a speech made on a trip to Britain in July, President Thein Sein promised that all political detainees would be freed by the end of the year.

However activists claim that authorities continue to prosecute political opponents and accuse the government of using the releases purely to gain leverage with the international community.


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The releases came just before Thein Sein was due to fly to Brunei, to take part in an Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit later on Tuesday. Prisoner amnesties in Myanmar have often coincided with high-profile international meetings.

Members of the Kachin Indedepence Army were said to be among those freed, as the Myanmar government holds peace negotiations with Kachin rebels from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

The KIO has until now refused to sign a ceasefire agreement with the government, calling for a sustainable political solution to be agreed first.

The authorities have released hundreds of political prisoners since Thein Sein took office in March 2011. Some 70 political prisoners were freed in July, many from Kachin groups.

Ye Aung, a member of the government’s scrutiny committee for the release of political prisoners, said about 130 political prisoners were still believed to be in jail.

rc/hc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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