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Myanmar President pledges release of all political prisoners

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Myanmar President Thein Sein, the first leader to visit Britain in more than 25 years has promised to release all his country's political prisoners by the year's end. British Prime Minister David Cameron had pressed Sein to speed up reforms.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Cameron, who visited the former military dictatorship last year had asked Thein Sein to ensure the constitution was changed in order to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to contest a presidential election in 2015. Cameron also urged him to halt inter-ethnic violence against Myanmar's Muslim minority.
 
"We very much welcome the reform process you are undertaking in your country and look forward to free, fair and open elections in 2015," Cameron told Thein Sein.

Cameron was ready to help spur the economic and political transition of the one-time British colony with aid money.
 
A former military commander, Thein Sein, wants the West to help the economy of the former Myanmar recover from decades of dictatorship, Soviet-style planning and international sanctions. Rights groups suggest that the West should proceed cautiously until Sein enacts deeper reforms.
 
Sein said this past weekend that he had disbanded a security force accused of rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in the west of Myanmar.
 
He has already freed some political prisoners. In a speech at the Chatham House think tank, he also promised to free all those remaining by the end of this year, saying a special committee was tackling the backlog.
 
"I guarantee to you that by the end of this year there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar," Thein Sein declared. "Over the last two and a half years, we have embarked upon a transformation which I believe is unprecedented."
 
He also said he was close to brokering a nationwide ceasefire to end long-running ethnic conflicts.
 
Rights activists were not mollified. "Cameron - Don't let Myanmar become the next Rwanda," about 30 members of the campaign group Avaaz said in a protest outside the British parliament. The slogan was a reference to the 1994 genocide when hundreds of thousands were killed.

"Wanted for War Crimes: President Thein Sein. Do not Reward," read another protestor's placard.

At least 237 people have been killed in Myanmar in religious violence over the past year and about 150,000 have been displaced. Most of the victims were Muslim and the deadliest incidents happened in Rakhine, where about 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live, according to the United Nations.

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