Saturday 23 September 2017

No more political prisoners: Burma

Burmese president Thein Sein meets David Cameron at 10 Downing Street
Burmese president Thein Sein meets David Cameron at 10 Downing Street

Burmese president Thein Sein has issued a guarantee that there will be no more prisoners of conscience held in his country's jails by the end of this year.

The promise came after the president, who has led a dramatic shift towards democratisation of Burma - officially known as Myanmar - since taking office in 2011, met Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street during his first visit to the UK.

Mr Cameron welcomed the prospect of free and fair elections in 2015, and emphasised the importance of completing constitutional changes which will allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - held under house arrest for 15 years after winning elections in 1990 - to take part.

The PM also stressed the need to resolve tensions which have led to ethnic conflict in Rakhine state and to protect the rights of the minority Rohingya Muslim community, said Downing Street.

Speaking at Chatham House following his meeting, Thein Sein said that thousands of prisoners had been released from Burma's jails as a result of new political freedoms, and a committee is working through cases to ensure that no one remains behind bars due to his or her political beliefs and actions.

The president said: "We are reviewing all cases. I guarantee to you that by the end of this year, there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar."

Thein Sein detailed progress on ending the dozen armed conflicts which have plagued Burma since independence from the UK in 1948.

He said: "Very possibly, over the coming weeks, we will have a nationwide ceasefire and the guns will go silent everywhere in Myanmar for the very first time in over 60 years."

Thein Sein said the recent communal violence had "rightly concerned the world" and added: "I promise you that we will take a zero-tolerance approach to any renewed violence and against those who fuel ethnic hatreds."

Downing Street said Mr Cameron "welcomed progress made on political transition in Burma" during a meeting at which the president briefed him on the latest developments in the south-east Asian state.

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