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Burma Releasing Political Prisoners Tuesday

Freed dissidents began emerging from Burmese jails Tuesday, the last day for the government to fulfill a promise to release all political prisoners by year's end.

At least five political prisoners have been released so far. More are set to walk free in the coming days as part of what officials are calling a wide-ranging amnesty.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says among those freed are Aung Min Naing and Yan Naing Tun, activists jailed for leading an unauthorized protest.

AAPP's Bo Kyi, who serves on a government political prisoner panel, tells VOA he expects the remaining prisoners to be let go during the first week of January.

This includes an estimated 40 jailed dissidents. It would also mean charges are dropped against about 200 others facing trial for political reasons in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

President Thein Sein announced the amnesty Monday. The reformist president promised during a July London visit to free all political prisoners by the end of the year.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said on his Facebook page Tuesday the promise has been kept, declaring "there are no more political prisoners."

However, the AAPP says it is possible some may remain jailed, since many political prisoners were convicted of other crimes, such as desertion or murder.

Rights groups and governments have long pressured Burma to free all its political prisoners, which were a hallmark of the country's prior military leadership.

Over the past three years, Burma has undergone significant political reforms, as its military government has given way to an elected one. It has allowed opposition candidates to run for office and take seats in parliament, and eased tough laws on dissent and the news media.

The government has released more than 1,300 political prisoners since reforms began.

But rights groups say the government's efforts will be incomplete if it does not amend or remove oppressive laws that have allowed the government to continue detaining its critics.

They also point out that many of those freed have later been re-arrested.

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