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Burma Releases Several Political Prisoners

Burma's military government has set free several political prisoners as part of an amnesty for more than 7,000 prisoners. But more than 2,000 political prisoners remain in jail and the releases are seen as a public relations move rather than a genuine change in attitude by Burma's military rulers.

Witnesses in Burma say authorities on Friday freed from prison several political prisoners, including journalists and opposition activists.

The releases came a day after Burma's military government announced it would free more than 7,000 prisoners because of their good conduct and on humanitarian grounds.

Burma occasionally sets free thousands of prisoners in mass amnesties, often ahead of sensitive dates, but most are petty criminals.

Benjamin Zawacki is a Burma researcher for Amnesty International in Bangkok. He says the military government wants to give the appearance of concessions to the international community, which has been demanding that Burma release all political prisoners ahead of next year's elections.

"Anything less than the release of all of those prisoners is going to be inadequate," Zawacki said. "And, it's not that we expected that the government would release all 2,200 in one go. But when you look at the pattern, again, every six to 12 months, between say five and 25 political prisoners [are] released. It's really far too little. And, it will prove to be far too late as far as the 2010 elections are concerned."

This latest amnesty coincides with the second anniversary of anti-government protests in 2007 and the 21st anniversary of the coup that brought the current military rulers to power.

Also on Friday, lawyers for Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi filed an appeal against her latest term of house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi is serving 18 months under house arrest for allowing an uninvited American man who broke into her house to stay there two days without official permission.

Many government critics say Burma's military leaders want to detain her through the elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won Burma's last elections in 1990, but Burma's military ignored the results and has kept her locked up for most of the time since.

A ruling on her appeal is expected on October 2. Zawacki says the hearing, like the trial, is "window dressing" and it is unlikely the authorities will release her.