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Burma Releases Prisoners Including Senior Opposition Figure

Burma's military government has freed hundreds of prisoners this week, including long-jailed political activists. But so far there is no word that Burma's best-known political dissident, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, will be released from house arrest.

Hundreds of prisoners have already been released, including former student leader Min Ko Naing.

Burma's military rulers announced plans Thursday to release nearly 4,000 prisoners they say were wrongly detained by its National Intelligence Bureau.

Also freed was 77-year-old pro-democracy leader Ohn Maung, who spoke to VOA Saturday:

"The action indicates the government is trying to rectify past mistakes," said Ohn Maung. "It is quite significant, but they've got to take further steps to prove that they are trying to rebuild the country."

The National Intelligence Bureau was disbanded after its leader, former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, was forced out of power last month on corruption charges.

Khin Nyunt was considered a moderate who outlined Burma's so-called road map to democracy, which has stalled.

Ohn Maung, who spent nearly seven years behind bars, says this week's release of prisoners does not necessarily signal a major shift in government policy. He says Burma's most influential democracy activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest.

"Only when these leaders of the democratic movement are released [will we] believe [Burma's rulers] truly intend to follow the democratic road as they declared," he said.

Of the hundreds released, there are no concrete figures on how many were political prisoners, and of these, many are old men either in poor health or just months from their scheduled release.

Nearly four decades of military rule and alleged human rights violations have made Burma one of the most politically isolated nations.

The government's move to release prisoners is unexpected and comes less than two weeks before Burma attends a summit of the influential Association of South East Asian Nations.

ASEAN is one of the only international groups open to Burma, but it has recently suggested it will take a harder line on Burma's human rights record.