Clinton wants Myanmar’s remaining political prisoners freed

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 17, 2012 17:27 EDT
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton via AFP
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WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed Thursday for Myanmar’s remaining political prisoners to be freed, following previous releases under reforms in the military-dominated state.

“We also would like to see the release of any continued political prisoners,” Clinton told reporters during a press conference with Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.

Myanmar said it freed more than 300 political prisoners in an amnesty in January, a move which prompted the United States to pledge it would restore full diplomatic ties.

About 200 others were let out in October 2011, and estimates of the number still behind bars vary.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says that more than 900 political prisoners remain locked up in Myanmar, while the National League for Democracy party estimates their number at about 330.

The minister said most of the people on lists received from the Europe Union and the United States have been released but some of those left in prison have committed criminal offenses or are linked to terrorist activities.

But he said President Thein Sein “will further grant amnesties when appropriate.”

Clinton’s remarks came the same day that President Barack Obama eased investment curbs on Myanmar and named the first US ambassador to the country in more than 20 years, hoping to reward a “nascent” political reform drive.

Clinton also said “the United States is very committed to supporting the end of the ethnic conflicts in the country” as she expressed concern about recent violence in Kachin State.

But she said “I was very pleased to hear about new mechanisms, both official and non-governmental, to encourage meaningful dialogue.”

Conflict between Myanmar’s army and ethnic rebels in Kachin state has raged for a year, displacing around 50,000 civilians and casting a shadow over hard-won government ceasefires in other parts of the country.

She also discussed concerns of military cooperation between nuclear-armed North Korea and Myanmar.

“I’m encouraged by reports that President Thein Sein has stated he will end the military relationship with North Korea,” Clinton added.

“And the minister assured me that they will fully comply with international obligations on non proliferation,” she said.

South Korea’s president Lee Myung-Bak this week won a promise from Myanmar to refrain from military cooperation with North Korea during a two-day trip there that included summit talks with Thein Sein.

Thein Sein denied any nuclear cooperation with Pyongyang, and said his country would abide by UN Security Council resolutions on the North’s nuclear and missile program, a South Korean presidential spokeswoman told AFP. The resolutions also ban weapons exports by the North.

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