Myanmar’s government released top political prisoners on Friday under its latest amnesty for 651 inmates as it aims to persuade the international community to lift sanctions against it.
Several leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group, a pro-democracy movement behind 1988 and 2007 anti-government protests, were among those released, officials who asked to remain anonymous said.
The 88 Generation leaders Min Ko Naing, Htay Kywe, Zaw That Htwe, and Jimmy and Nilar Thein were released, sources said.
“I am very happy to hear they released leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group,” a taxi driver in Yangon said.
Other prominent prisoners freed included former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who fell from grace in 2004; Shan rebel leader Khun Tun Oo; and Buddhist monk Gambira, a leader of the 2007 protests.
Khin Nyunt was the former head of Myanmar Military Intelligence before he fell out of favour with Senior General Than Shwe, head of the previous junta, which was replaced by an elected government last year. Dozens of Khin Nyunt’s intelligence staff were arrested with him on corruption charges. The releases came after decades of repressive military rule and the election of a civilian government, albeit one stacked with former military men.
The current government, which took office in March, has taken a reformist stance and released more than 20,000 inmates, including 347 political prisoners, in three earlier amnesties.
The international community has been pressing the government for the releases as proof that it is sincere about political reforms and democratisation.
The National League for Democracy opposition party, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, put the number of remaining prisoners of conscience at fewer than 600.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, which is dedicated to monitoring political prisoners in Myanmar, estimated that at least 1,500 political prisoners remained in jail, many of them serving decades-long sentences.