Myanmar releases comedian, ethnic leader in general amnesty
Oct 12, 2011, 2:54 GMT
Yangon - Myanmar's new government released well-known comedian Zarganar and at least one ethnic minority leader under a general amnesty Wednesday for more than 6,000 prisoners.
The comic imprisoned for his wisecracks about the former ruling junta was released Wednesday morning from the jail in Myitkyiha, Kachin State, officials said.
General Hsay Htin, leader of the outlawed Shan State Army, was also released from prison in Rakhine State, where he was serving a 160-year jail term, said government sources who asked to remain anonymous.
Jailed student leaders were not expected to be among those eligible for the amnesty, the sources said.
President Thein Sein's office said 6,359 prisoners would be released Wednesday 'for the sake of the nation.' Several political prisoners were expected to be among them.
The amnesty came at a time of raised hopes that Myanmar, ruled by military regimes since 1962, has turned a political corner under its new regime, which took office six months ago.
The international community has been pressuring the government to release an estimated 2,100 political prisoners as a crucial step towards national reconciliation and normalization of diplomatic ties with the West.
Releases would take place nationwide throughout the day, sources said.
Military rulers had granted amnesties in the past, but only a handful of political prisoners were included in the lists of those released.
The latest amnesty coincides with the Thadingngut Festival of Lights, which celebrates the end of Buddhist Lent.
The festival, celebrated by hoisting candles and small lanterns on pagodas, is a time for family reunions and paying respect to elders and relatives.
Thein Sein created optimism about his government's sincerity about genuine political reforms after he met for the first time with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for private talks in August in the capital, Naypyitaw.
Western democracies have imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar since 1988 when an army crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators killed an estimated 3,000 people.
The United States and Europe have called on the new government to match its words with actions. Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said Monday in Bangkok that there were 'dramatic developments under way.'
Myanmar held its first general election in 20 years in November, bringing a new pro-military government into office in April.
'We have stated clearly that we are prepared for a new dynamic in our relationship,' Campbell said. 'There is clearly change afoot, but we are looking to see whether it is sustained and whether it will grow.'