Myanmar’s president grants amnesty to over 8,500 prisoners

A released prisoner walks past the gate of Insein prison on Tuesday, April 17, in Yangon. Myanmar President Win Myint has granted amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners, reportedly including at least three dozen political prisoners. (AP)
Updated 17 April 2018
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Myanmar’s president grants amnesty to over 8,500 prisoners

YANGON, Myanmar: Myanmar President Win Myint has granted amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners, reportedly including at least three dozen political prisoners.
The amnesty, announced Tuesday, coincided with Myanmar’s traditional New Year. It was granted to 8,490 Myanmar citizens and 51 foreigners. A statement from presidential spokesman Zaw Thay said those released included the aged, people in ill health and drug offenders. None was individually named.
It also said 36 of those to be freed had been listed as political prisoners by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
The releases were to take place at prisons nationwide. Relatives and friends of those held waited Tuesday outside the gates at Insein Prison, in the northern outskirts of Yangon, where it was expected that more than 300 prisoners, including eight political detainees, would be released.
Although called an amnesty, the action appeared to actually be a mass pardon, meaning it would cover only prisoners who had already been convicted of crimes. Two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, facing a high-profile freedom of the press trial for possessing secret official documents would not be covered under the action.
One of the journalists’ lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said his understanding was that the president was only pardoning convicted criminals.
“So, since the two reporters have not been sentenced for prison terms, we don’t know if they will be part of the release. If this was an amnesty, then it’s possible that they might be part of the list,” he told The Associated Press.
Bo Kyi, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said the group was waiting to confirm the releases.
“We don’t know exactly if all 36 political prisoners will be released or not, and that’s why the family members are waiting outside of the prison,” he said.
The group, which has extensive experience in monitoring the incarceration of political prisoners, says that 54 are currently serving prison terms after being convicted, 74 are in detention awaiting trial, and another 120 are awaiting trial but are not detained.
Win Myint became president last month, after his predecessor, Htin Kyaw, stepped down because of illness.
The Facebook page of Deputy Information Minister Aung Hla Tun said the presidential action was taken “as a gesture of marking the Myanmar New Year and after taking into consideration the prevalence of peace of mind among the people, humanitarian concerns and friendly relations among nations.”
The release of political prisoners was a priority of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party when it took over power from a pro-military government in March 2016. Suu Kyi is the country’s de facto leader, holding the specially created post of State Counsellor. Constitutional rules prohibit her from serving as president because her two children are British, as was her late husband.
When Suu Kyi’s government took power in 2016, it made it a priority to release political prisoners detained during military rule, freeing almost 200 within a month.
However, critics of Suu Kyi’s government say it also has pursued politically motivated prosecutions, citing cases against land rights activists and journalists.


Djibouti asks UN help to end border dispute with Eritrea

Djibouti’s UN ambassador, Mohamed Siad Doualeh. (Courtesy: Youtube)
Updated 3 min 50 sec ago
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Djibouti asks UN help to end border dispute with Eritrea

  • Eritrea had successfully resolved a dispute with Yemen over their sea boundary and a Red Sea island through binding international arbitration
  • Djibouti accused Eritrean troops of occupying the Dumeira mountain area

UNITED NATIONS: Djibouti is asking Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to help peacefully resolve a border dispute with Eritrea following the recent end to that nation’s 20-year border dispute with Ethiopia.
Djibouti’s UN ambassador, Mohamed Siad Doualeh, asked Guterres in a letter circulated Wednesday to work with the Security Council to bring his tiny port nation and Eritrea together “with the aim of facilitating an agreement between them upon a mutually acceptable means of peaceful dispute settlement.”
He said Djibouti’s preference would be to refer the dispute “to judicial settlement or arbitration” that would be legally binding.
Djibouti’s appeal to the UN chief follows the dramatic diplomatic thaw to one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts that began last month when Ethiopia’s reformist new prime minister fully accepted a peace deal that ended a 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea that killed tens of thousands.
Doualeh recalled that the Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 “because of its aggression against Djibouti and its refusal to withdraw its troops from the disputed area, and its rejection of all efforts aimed at mediating between the two parties.”
Djibouti accused Eritrean troops of occupying the Dumeira mountain area shortly after the peacekeepers left on June 13, 2017, and lodged a formal complaint with the African Union.
“Eritrean forces continue to occupy Djiboutian territory, prisoners of war remain unaccounted for, threats of force continue to emanate from the Eritrean side and the risk of violent confrontation is once again high,” Doualeh said.
He warned that without any effort to end the border dispute, the UN monitoring group has said “the situation on the ground remains vulnerable to provocation by both parties, which could result in the rapid escalation of conflict.”
“There is thus an urgent need for a new dispute settlement mechanism,” Doualeh said.
He said Djibouti applauds the secretary-general’s recent decision to refer a longstanding border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana to the International Court of Justice. He also noted that Eritrea had successfully resolved a dispute with Yemen over their sea boundary and a Red Sea island through binding international arbitration.
Doualeh said Djibouti will “consider in good faith any proposals that you or the Security Council might make with regard to the appropriate means of peaceful dispute settlement.”