Burma ‘to free political prisoners’

Burma will release all political prisoners “by the end of the year”, President Thein Sein has said during his first official visit to the UK.

The president made the remarks during a speech in London, after holding talks with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has freed hundreds of political detainees since Thein Sein took power in March 2010.

Up until then, it barely acknowledged the prisoners’ existence. Their release is part of ongoing political reforms.

“By the end of the year there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar,” President Thein Sein said on Monday.

He added that a special committee was reviewing every political inmate’s case.

Earlier, Mr Cameron told the Burmese president he was “concerned” about the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Burma.

Sectarian violence in Rakhine state last year left some 200 people dead and tens of thousands – mostly Rohingya people – displaced.

Burmese authorities have been accused of failing to stop the violence and adequately safeguard the rights of Muslims.

But the government says Rohingya people are relatively recent migrants from the Indian sub-continent, and so the country’s constitution does not include them among indigenous groups qualifying for citizenship.

President Thein Sein has introduced major reforms since the elections of November 2010, which saw military rule replaced with a military-backed civilian government.

Many political prisoners have been freed and media restrictions have been relaxed.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy – which boycotted the November 2010 polls – has rejoined the political process and now has a small presence in parliament.

In response, most international sanctions against Burma have been relaxed.