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Burma Pardons Dozens of Political Prisoners

Burmese political prisoners Win Thaw (L) and Win Hla (R) stand outside the entrance of the Insein Prison upon their release after receiving amnesty from Burmese President Thein Sein, in Rangoon, Burma, July 23, 2013.
Burmese President Thein Sein has pardoned about 70 political prisoners, just days after vowing to release all remaining dissidents by the end of the year.

Officials say some of those pardoned Tuesday already have been released from various prisons in Burma. Their identities are not known.

Last week, Thein Sein pledged during a visit to London that all prisoners of conscience would be released before the end of the year - a key demand by rights groups and foreign governments.

Before Tuesday's announcement, activists estimated there were between 100 and 200 political prisoners behind bars in Burma.

The arbitrary jailing of political opponents was a hallmark of military rule in Burma, which has undergone a wave of reforms since a nominally civilian government took power in 2011.

Hundreds of political prisoners have been released. Media censorship has been loosened. And opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to successfully run for parliament.

The reforms have won praise from Western governments, many of which have loosened decades-old economic sanctions against the Southeast Asian country.

But some activists say Thein Sein has lagged behind on certain reforms. They say he has refused to release all political prisoners immediately because he wants to use them as political bargaining chips with the West.

The government argues that it takes time to identify who is a prisoner of conscience and who has committed actual crimes.