YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's military government announced an amnesty Friday night for more than 6,300 prisoners but did not mention whether any political detainees will be among those released.
State radio and television announced that the convicts from various prisons would be released starting Saturday. The brief announcement said that 6,313 prisoners were being freed in recognition of their good conduct and so that they would be able to participate in a general election planned for next year.
Human rights groups estimate that the regime holds more than 2,100 political detainees, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 19 years in detention without trial.
When the junta freed 9,002 prisoners last September, only about a dozen were political detainees.
In recent months, the junta's courts have sentenced more than 100 dissidents, including some of the country's most prominent activists, to prison terms that would keep them incarcerated well past the 2010 polls. The junta says the elections will restore democracy, but critics charge they will be a sham to keep the military in control.
The top U.N. envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, who recently visitied the country, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that he had not received any official communication from the government and was waiting to see how many of the prisoners were criminals and how many were political prisoners.
"At the same time I believe it's fair to welcome the release of prisoners, particularly political prisoners," Gambari said.
Asked for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's reaction, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas echoed Gambari, saying "it still remains unclear whether and how many political prisoners this deal may include."
"We encourage the government to release all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," she said.
Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962, is shunned by Western nations because of its poor human rights record. The ruling generals came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy uprising and killing as many as 3,000 people.
The junta called elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly.