YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Nearly 7,000 prisoners in Myanmar, including some former military intelligence officials purged by their army colleagues, have been given presidential pardons.
An Information Ministry statement posted on its website said 6,966 prisoners, including 210 foreigners, will be freed from various prisons across the country "on humanitarian grounds and in view of national reconciliation."
It was not clear if pro-democracy activists were among those being freed. The vast majority of those freed in mass pardons are common criminals. No official lists of pardoned prisoners are issued, so the names of those freed usually come from the prisoners themselves, or their families.
The pardons, effective from Thursday, by President Thein Sein are timed to coincide with a Buddhist religious holiday and come ahead of a November general election. The polls have triggered criticism that Thein Sein's government is backsliding on political reforms it promised upon taking power in 2011 after almost five decades of repressive military rule. Past Myanmar governments have released political prisoners as a way of assuaging criticism from abroad.
Among those released included 155 Chinese loggers, most of whom received life sentences earlier this month in connection with illegal logging in northern Myanmar. Their jail terms drew much ire in China, which is a top ally of Myanmar. The punishment seemed largely to serve as a warning not to make business deals with Myanmar ethnic rebel groups, as the Chinese logging company was believed to have done.
"The 155 Chinese loggers have been transferred to immigration this morning," said a Myitkyina prison official who did not want to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media. Myitkyina is the capital of Kachin state where the Chinese were imprisoned.
Those pardoned Thursday include eight former senior military intelligence officers who since 2004 have been serving jail terms of 80 years or more, said members of their families. They include former Brig. Gen. Than Tun, who served as a liaison officer between the former military government and Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader who was then under house arrest.
Although the major charges against the officers involved corruption, it was their ties to former intelligence chief and then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt that led to their jailing. Khin Nyunt led the losing faction in a power struggle within the then-ruling junta. He was released under an earlier pardon.