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Myanmar declares 'no more political prisoners' after amnesty

YANGON -- Myanmar on Tuesday declared it would have “no more political prisoners” by year-end after announcing a sweeping amnesty, releasing several inmates as campaigners voiced concern that more dissidents remain behind bars.

The country, which had pledged to free all prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013, has held a series of high-profile amnesties as part of dramatic reforms since the end of outright military rule nearly three years ago.

It was unclear whether the amnesty would affect all of about 40 political prisoners listed by campaigners, as well as a further 200 people awaiting trial, mainly for protesting without permission.

Myanmar late Monday said it would pardon those imprisoned under controversial legislation, including the Emergency Act used by the junta to imprison opponents as well as laws governing freedom of assembly and the right to protest.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said the amnesty, along with a separate pardon for five additional inmates jailed under other legislation, meant “there are no more political prisoners.”

“I would like to say that the president has fulfilled his promise given to the people, because there will be no political prisoners at all at the end of 2013,” he said in a post on his Facebook page, without giving further details of the release which began Tuesday.

Former general Thein Sein has won international plaudits and the lifting of most western sanctions for overseeing political and civil freedoms since becoming president nearly three years ago.

But campaigners sounded a note of caution.

“We cannot say at this moment whether there are no more political prisoners. We are waiting and watching,” said Thet Oo, of a group representing former political prisoners in Yangon, adding he hoped more activists would be released in coming days.

He said five political prisoners were thought to have been released across the country Tuesday.

Around 120 more people awaiting trial — some of whom were being held in prison — were believed to have had cases against them dropped.

Arbitrary imprisonment was a hallmark of nearly half a century under a junta that denied the existence of political prisoners, even as it imposed harsh punishments on rights activists, journalists, lawyers and performers.

Before Myanmar's reforms, rights groups accused the country of wrongfully imprisoning about 2,000 political detainees.

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Political prisoner Win Shwe, right, is welcomed by family members after he was released from Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar on Tuesday, Dec. 31. (AP)

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