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Burma, Opposition Agree 275 Political Prisoners Being Held - 2002-07-09


Burma's military government and the opposition National League for Democracy say 275 of the party's members are in prison. The number of political prisoners is far below estimates by diplomats and international human rights groups.

Diplomats in Rangoon cautiously welcomed news that Burma's government and the National League for Democracy agree that 275 NLD members remain in prison.

Freedom for all political prisoners remains a key NLD condition before full talks can commence on Burma's future.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International contend there are about 1,500 political prisoners in Burma, some of whom have not been freed, although they have completed their sentences.

In addition to announcing the agreement over the number of prisoners, the government also said it has released 10 NLD members from prison. The government has freed 283 party members since closed-door talks started with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi in late 2000. The government only recently freed Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest.

The NLD won national elections in 1990, but the military never let it take power. Instead, the government has harassed and arrested party members.

Western diplomats in Rangoon greet the latest figures with caution, and say there are many other political prisoners who are officially held on criminal charges.

NLD officials say the government figure is in line with party estimates. They say the government still holds more than 400 political prisoners who are not NLD members.

Chaiyachoke Chualsiriwong, a political scientist in Thailand, says the agreement indicates that some progress has been made in reconciling the government and the NLD. He says Burma's government is under pressure to show results before a senior U.N. envoy and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visit Rangoon later this month.

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