Myanmar gives amnesty to some 6,300 prisoners

By the Associated Press | October 11, 2011 | 2:55 AM EDT

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's state-run radio and television stations have announced that the country's president has granted amnesty to more than 6,300 prisoners.

The broadcast on Tuesday's midday news said the releases would begin Wednesday but did not specify how many political detainees would be among those receiving an amnesty from President Thein Sein.

The release of political prisoners has been hotly anticipated as a crucial step in liberalizing measures implemented by the military-backed but elected government that took power in March.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's tightly controlled state newspapers published an appeal Tuesday for a political amnesty, indicating that a release of some of the country's 2,000 political prisoners may be imminent.

The appeal in the three state newspapers, which closely reflect government positions, was an open letter from the government-appointed National Human Rights Commission calling on President Thein Sein to grant an amnesty as a gesture of magnanimity.

Some officials have been saying privately that such a release is expected within days.

Myanmar's long-ruling military government handed power in March to an elected administration, which is seen as remaining closely aligned with the military but which has declared its intention to liberalize the country's hardline policies.

The United States believes Myanmar's elections were flawed but has been encouraged by its liberalizing trend since the civilian administration took power, the highest-ranking American diplomat for Asia said Monday.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell, speaking at a lecture in the Thai capital, Bangkok, cited "dramatic developments under way" in Myanmar and said Washington may soon take steps to improve its relationship with the country.

"I think it would be fair to say that we will match their steps with comparable steps and we are looking forward in the course of the next several weeks to continuing a dialogue that has really stepped up in recent months," he said.

Campbell cited a "very consequential dialogue" between Thein Sein and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a major positive development. In public speeches Thein Sein also has appeared conciliatory about easing limits on freedom of speech and holding talks with ethnic rebels.

The United States has long ostracized Myanmar with political and economic sanctions because the failure of the former military government to hand over power to a democratically elected government and poor human rights record.

The U.S. could ease restrictions on financial transactions and travel by top Myanmar officials, and also unblock aid by some multilateral agencies as well as resume its own assistance.

Thein Sein instituted an amnesty soon after taking office, but it included just a few dozen political prisoners.

The letter published Tuesday called for freeing "prisoners who were convicted for breach of the existing laws and who do not pose a threat to the stability of state and public tranquility in the interest of national races." It noted that other countries and the U.N. have called for such a release.

The political prisoners include leaders and prominent members of several political parties affiliated with the country's ethnic minorities.