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Freedom House Welcomes Release of Political Prisoners in Burma
Freedom House welcomes the release of 651 prisoners in Burma, many of whom are high-level political prisoners. The release came several hours prior to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement January 13 that the United States would restore full diplomatic relations with Burma, and follows Secretary Clinton’s historic visit to Burma in December 2011 and British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s visit last week.
Earlier this week, the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic minority group engaged in an armed conflict against the central Burmese state for the last 60 years, signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. This was an unprecedented step for the KNU, and may indicate the Burmese government’s willingness to end the ongoing violence against other ethnic minorities. Yet while there have been strides in the last year for Burmese democracy, there are still many steps the Burmese government must take to ensure a freer and more open society.
The recent developments reflect steps toward liberalization that began in 2010. The installation of a civilian government and the subsequent steps to allow freer elections in 2012 have been coupled with steps to create a more open civil society. The protest against the Myitsone Dam project was a major turning point that reflected the first instance of the government responding to civil society action, sparking the legalization of public protests. Toward the end of 2011, the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was permitted to register for the upcoming by-elections, and Suu Kyi has since declared that she will run as a candidate. Despite these steps, many political prisoners remain in prison after suffering decades of harsh conditions and brutal treatment, and ethnic minorities, refugees and displaced persons are facing increasing violence.