Concern About Political Prisoners in Burma

Posted January 4th, 2012 at 9:20 am (UTC-5)
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Burma celebrated the 64th anniversary of its independence from Britain on Wednesday amid criticism that the government's recent clemency program is not doing enough for political prisoners.

In a statement marking independence day, President Thein Sein praised the military's role in bringing about recent democratic reforms and said Burma is “marching toward a democratic nation of justice and liberty.”

He insisted the army will remain an essential pillar of the country.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told hundreds of supporters at her National League for Democracy headquarters that everyone has a right to freedom.

“Each and every individual deserves freedom, and we have to prove that we deserve it.”

Her comments came a day after a prisoner release by the government disappointed many people because so few of those freed were political prisoners.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland urged Burma to release all of its remaining political prisoners.

Nuland said President Thein Sein's recently enacted clemency program fell short of Washington's expectations. She said Washington remains committed to improving relations with Burma, but that normalizing ties will be difficult unless the government releases the estimated 1,000 political prisoners still in its custody.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said while visiting Burma in November that the U.S. will consider lifting sanctions if Burma's new government continues to make political reforms.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the former Burmese military government for the past two decades because of its harsh human-rights abuses, including military operations against ethnic groups and the jailing of up to 2,000 political prisoners.

Burma's new military-dominated government has made a series of political reforms in the past year. In addition to releasing some political prisoners, it eased press restrictions and opened dialogue with critics including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.