Monday 23 October 2017

Regime plans to release political captives

Tracy McVeigh and Joseph Allchin in Rangoon

THERE is no "concrete" reason why hundreds of Burma's political prisoners could not be released without delay, according to a spokesman for the country's authoritarian regime.

The pace of the Burmese "spring" appeared to accelerate this weekend as the regime revealed plans to make peace with ethnic rebels, release more prisoners and ease state censorship.

It came as Hillary Clinton arrived in the country for a two-day visit, the first by a US secretary of state in more than 50 years. Praising reforms made since the March elections when the military gave way to civilian rule, albeit in a parliament stacked with former generals, she urged more.

The UK's development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, visited last week and yesterday the UN discussed strengthening co-operation with the reclusive state as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he had accepted an invitation from President Thein Sein to visit Burma "as soon as possible".

The president's chief adviser, Ko Ko Hlaing, admitted to reporters yesterday that there was an internal debate in the government over the pace of change, with some wishing to keep it slow, but added: "I can't say exactly the time but there is no concrete reason to delay the release of the political prisoners."

He said the government wanted to see the 230 activists freed in an amnesty in October integrated into the political process.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi officially re-entered electoral politics when her pro-democracy National League for Democracy (NLD) party registered to contest forthcoming by-elections. It will be the first time in her political career that she has competed for a parliamentary seat after the party boycotted previous elections and was subsequently declared illegal. Ms Suu Kyi said about 400 NLD activists remained behind bars.

© Observer

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