RANGOON, Burma – Authorities agreed to release 70 political prisoners Tuesday (July 23rd), after President Thein Sein vowed to free all dissidents by the end of the year, AFP reported.
Last week Thein Sein said there would be "no prisoners of conscience in Burma" by the end of the year. His comments came during his first ever visit to London, part of a European tour aimed at burnishing Burma's international image.
Rights groups and officials estimate there were between 100 and 150 political prisoners in Burma ahead of Tuesday's announcement.
"Even if we welcome this release, we are very concerned because of the new trials. They continue to send new (political prisoners) to jail," said Bo Kyi of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which collects data on imprisoned Burmese activists.
He said around 80 convicted dissidents remain behind bars, with a further 70 awaiting trial.
Hla Maung Shwe, a senior official at the Burma Peace Centre, said around 27 of those being released were rebels from Kachin, where the government is working on brokering a crucial ceasefire deal.
Thein Sein's government has reached tentative peace deals with major armed ethnic minority rebel groups in the country.
"Very possibly, over the coming weeks, we will have a nationwide ceasefire and the guns will go silent everywhere in Burma for the very first time in over 60 years," Thein Sein said last week.