In an apparent gesture of goodwill, Myanmar would free 452 political prisoners ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s landmark visit to that country, state media reported Thursday.
Burmese media said the political detainees, including hundreds of dissidents, would be freed with the "intent to help promote goodwill and the bilateral relationship.”
A Home Ministry official, who referred to the dissidents as "prisoners of conscience," declined to specify how many of them would walk free, Reuters has reported.
"There are some foreigners included in the amnesty," a prison department official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official declined to give details of their nationalities.
However, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) told Reuters that it had not heard of a single political detainee being released.
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The U.S. has called for the release of all the remaining political prisoners but Myanmar is yet to do so.
Obama will make a stop at Myanmar during his November 17-20 trip to three Southeast Asian nations built around a summit in Cambodia, where he will meet with leaders from China, Japan, Russia, India and other Asia-Pacific countries.
Obama is the first U.S. president ever to officially visit Myanmar, highlighting the country’s shift to democracy after decades of military rule.
The president will hold talks with his Burmese counterpart Thein Sein and opposition leader and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
A spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) welcomed the latest amnesty, but added that it was “strange” that the prisoners were released just before Obama's visit.
"They should have done it before and showed their genuine will to give the amnesty," NLD spokesman Ohn Kyaing was quoted as saying by the AFP. He said it was unclear if any NLD members were among those due to be released.
Myanmar’s government, under Sein, has been open to reforms and has been engaging in peace talks with rebel ethnic groups. The president also allowed Suu Kyi's party to successfully participate in special elections for the national parliament in April.
About 700 political prisoners were freed between May 2011 and July 2012 and an amnesty was announced in September for 88 dissidents, but several hundred dissidents are still languishing in Myanmar's jails.
Though the reforms haven’t been comprehensive, the Western governments responded to the progressive measures of Sein’s semi-civilian government by easing several sanctions that were put in place during the military rule since the 1962 military coup.