Asia

Burma political prisoners 'freed' after EU sanctions move

Webpage of AAPP activist group
Image caption Activists say that more than 200 political prisoners still languish in jail

At least 56 political prisoners have been freed in Burma, campaigners say, following the EU decision on Monday to lift the last of its sanctions.

One of those freed, activist Zaw Moe, told the BBC Burmese service that the releases were linked to the EU move.

Correspondents say that the latest amnesty could also be linked to the onset of the Burmese new year.

In a separate development, the government has announced an expansion in the teaching of ethnic languages.

Pupils in thousands of government schools will now be able to learn their native tongue as a second language.

Up until now they have been compelled to learn English as a second language in addition to Burmese.

In many cases the restrictions meant they could not speak the language of their ethnicity.

There are more than 100 different languages spoken in Burma by a wide variety of ethnic groups including the Shan, Kachin, Rakhine and Kayin.

Campaigners say that many of these languages are in danger of dying out.

'Victims of politics'

Rights groups have welcomed the latest round of prisoner releases.

"But more than 200 political prisoners are still in prison," Bo Kyi of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) told the AFP news agency.

"Political prisoners should be recognised as political prisoners and be released unconditionally," he said.

The amnesty also includes 40 former rebels from eastern Shan state jailed for drug trafficking, Mr Bo said, describing them as "victims of politics".

A government official told AFP that the political prisoners were among a total of 93 inmates - including three foreigners - who were pardoned. The official did not identify any of those freed.

"This release aims to allow them to participate in building the country and is also based on humanitarian grounds," he said.

Burma has freed hundreds of political detainees since President Thein Sein took power in March 2011. Up until then it barely acknowledged their existence.

It announced a review of all politically-related cases in November last year.

Rights groups accused the former military government of wrongfully imprisoning about 2,000 political opponents, dissidents and journalists.

More than 800 political prisoners were freed in amnesties between May 2011 and November 2012, campaigners say.

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