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Updated: October 13, 2011 01:56 IST

Myanmar releases dissidents, keeps many locked up

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Myanmar's comedian and government critic Zarganar talks to journalists after his release in Yangon on Wednesday. Photo: AP
Myanmar's comedian and government critic Zarganar talks to journalists after his release in Yangon on Wednesday. Photo: AP

Myanmar freed an outspoken critic and a major ethnic rebel as it began releasing 6,300 convicts on Wednesday in its latest liberalising move, but kept several political detenus behind bars, dampening hopes for a broader amnesty.

It was not clear how many of the estimated 2,000 political detenus were included in the amnesty. One estimate said only 155 of them were freed. But the released included ailing Shan Army commander Hso Hten and comedian Zarganar, who was imprisoned after criticising the government response to Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

“I will be happy and I will thank the government only when all of my friends are freed,” he told AP after his release in northernmost Kachin State. He joked when he asked about his health, saying sarcastically — “I am the healthiest person in the country. I am the strongest.”

Relatives of convicts held emotional reunions with loved ones outside prisons around the country a day after the new civilian President declared an amnesty for 6,359 inmates many of them ordinary criminals on humanitarian grounds, but without disclosing any names.

Western governments, the U.N. and Myanmar's opposition have eagerly awaited a broad political amnesty as a gesture of liberalisation by the elected government after decades of harsh military rule. A failure to follow through on those hopes could hamper the country's efforts to burnish its human rights record and win a lifting of Western economic and political sanctions.

“The freedom of each individual is invaluable, but I wish that all political prisoners would be released,” said Myanmar's pro-democracy campaigner and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

President Thein Sein, a retired senior army officer who took office in March, has launched economic reforms and eased limits on freedom of speech by relaxing censorship and unblocking banned websites. He also has started a dialogue with Ms. Suu Kyi.

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