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Myanmar to free hundreds of political prisoners

US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell [official profile] on Monday indicated Myanmar's civilian-led government is planning dramatic changes including releasing hundreds of political prisoners and consequential dialogue with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Journalists, lawyers and democracy advocates are among the detainees to be released and pardoned [AFP report], although no date has been set. Campbell has expressed cautious optimism [BBC report] but indicated reforms must be substantial and enduring. The National League for Democracy [official website], led by Suu Kyi, appears poised to participate in parliamentary elections [Telegraph report] later this year after the military-backed government agreed to reforms including permitting candidates to compete without accepting the controversial 2008 constitution [text, PDF].

Myanmar has sought to improve its international reputation following a transfer of power [BBC report] from a military regime to a civil system in March after holding its first elections in 20 years. Last month, Myanmar's government formed the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) [JURIST report] to promote and safeguard the country's constitutional rights. In August, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile] urged the government of Myanmar to investigate human rights abuses [JURIST report] and improve its rights record. In May, Myanmar began releasing as many as 15,000 prisoners [JURIST report] as part of an amnesty program after a visit from a special envoy from the UN secretary-general, but rights groups claim the government has not gone far enough. Critics of the new regime argue it is merely a sham since it is made up of military generals and with the military party winning 80 percent of the vote.

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