Suu Kyi urges Myanmar to free more prisoners

Speaking on anniversary of her release from home arrest, opposition leader cites progress but calls for more reform.

    Senior Myanmar officials have reportedly offered opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a position in government [AFP]

    Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has admitted that Myanmar's government has taken positive steps toward reform since she was released from house arrest last year but she said more needs to be done, including freeing hundreds more political prisoners.

    The Nobel peace laureate, speaking to more than 100 journalists on the anniversary of her release, cited her meetings with minister Aung Kyi and Thein Sein, Myanmar's president, as progress.

    "Looking back at the past year, I think I can say that it has been eventful, energising and to a certain extent encouraging," said Suu Kyi, who was detained for most of the past two decades by the former military government.

    Even so, hours before Suu Kyi addressed the crowd a scheduled release of political prisoners was delayed after a meeting of top officials, sources said.

    "So far we haven't had any order or instruction from superiors," an official who asked not to be named told the AFP news agency, adding that the decision to delay the process was made "at the last minute".

    The reasons for the delay were not clear, but the authorities are now expected to decide on a case-by-case basis which prisoners to release.

    'Great importance'

    Hundreds of prisoners of conscience are in detention in Myanmar, which has been dominated by the military for more than 40 years, and their release is one of the major demands of Western nations, which have imposed sanctions.

    "An issue of great importance to all of us who are working for democracy in Burma is that of political prisoners," said Suu Kyi, using the name for the country that the pro-democracy movement prefers.

    "Some have been released over the last year, but there are still many who remain in prison."

    Since taking power in March, Thein Sein, a former general, has surprised critics by holding direct talks with Suu Kyi and defying key ally China by freezing work on an unpopular mega-dam project.

    Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Chiang Mai, Thailand, said Suu Kyi had even received an unofficial offer of a senior position in government.

    The new government, which replaced a long-ruling military junta after a controversial election, pardoned more than 6,300 prisoners, including about 200 political detainees, in a much-anticipated amnesty in October.

    Political prisoners

    A prisoner release in the next few days is also anticipated because a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) begins on Thursday in Bali, Indonesia.

    Myanmar is seeking to chair ASEAN in 2014, and the release of political prisoners would be seen as a positive development favouring its bid, which is likely to be decided at this week's summit.

    Myanmar's three state-owned newspapers published an open letter on Sunday from National Human Rights Commission chairman Win Mra calling for an amnesty "as a reflection of magnanimity", or to transfer political prisoners in remote prisons to facilities with easy access for their family members.

    The letter's publication is significant because the tightly controlled newspapers closely reflect government positions.

    But no release had been announced by mid-afternoon Monday. Myanmar is estimated to hold as many as 2,000 political

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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