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Myanmar frees at least 20 political prisoners

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s reformist government granted amnesties for at least 20 political prisoners on Tuesday, but opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for the release of hundreds more still behind bars.

Zaw Thet Htwe, who monitors prisoner releases for the opposition, said more than 20 of 46 detainees who were granted amnesties by President Thein Sein were prisoners of conscience, and he was able to confirm that 14 had actually been freed.

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The office of 88 Generation Students, a group that spearheaded a failed uprising against the military in 1988, put the number slightly higher, saying 24 political prisoners were among those to be freed.

Freedom for political prisoners is a benchmark used by Western nations critical of Myanmar’s former military regime to judge Thein Sein’s administration. Previous releases have been a major factor in decisions by those nations to ease economic and political embargoes they placed on the previous government for its poor human rights record.

Thein Sein had served with the old regime, but came to office last year after a general election. He began a series of democratic reforms and opened a dialogue with the country’s prodemocracy movement, winning Suu Kyi’s praise for his efforts. She agreed to have her party contest by-elections in April, and she and other colleagues are now members of the small opposition faction in the military-dominated Legislature.

Human Rights Watch says at least 659 political prisoners have been released over the past year.

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