UN envoy calls on Myanmar to release prisoners

AP News
Posted: Aug 25, 2011 11:53 AM
UN envoy calls on Myanmar to release prisoners

The U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar said Thursday at the end of his visit to the country its new government should release all political prisoners.

Myanmar installed a nominally civilian government in March but still holds more than 2,000 political prisoners.

Releasing them is a "central and necessary step toward national reconciliation," Tomas Ojea Quintana said in Yangon on conclusion of his five-day visit.

He also told reporters Myanmar needs an independent judiciary and should investigate alleged human rights violations.

He thanked the government for allowing his visit and access to government ministers and opposition leaders. He met with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time Wednesday.

His last visit to the country was in February 2010, while Suu Kyi was under house arrest. She was freed in November shortly after Myanmar's first election in 20 years.

Quintana and others have criticized that vote as undemocratic, and the new government is largely still dominated by the military.

He said President Thein Sein's new government has taken some positive steps on human rights, including recognizing the need for peace talks with armed ethnic groups and opening the door for exiles to return.

He called on the government to "intensify its efforts to implement its own commitments and to fulfill its international human rights obligations."

Quintana added many concerns remained, including reports of torture in prisons and the use of prisoners as porters for the military.

He met with seven people imprisoned in Yangon's notorious Insein Prison.

The international community must remain engaged and closely follow developments but should also "support and assist the government during this important time," he said.

He added he hopes to visit Myanmar again before his next report to the Human Rights Council in March 2012.