NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Myanmar officials released more than 450 detainees ahead of next week's visit by U.S. President Obama, but human rights leaders said no dissidents were freed.
In announcing the release of the prisoners, state-run media said Thursday's action was meant to "to help promote goodwill and the bilateral relationship," the British publication The Guardian reported.
However Bo Kyi, speaking for the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners based in Thailand, said no political dissidents were released in the latest amnesty gesture in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
"All are common criminals or foreign nationals from China, Thailand or neighboring countries," Kyi said. "We know of no political prisoners among the 452 freed."
The Guardian said information about the exact identities of those released was unclear and that it couldn't confirm AAPP's claim.
After decades of military rule, Myanmar during the past year has introduced sweeping reforms, allowing elections, easing protest rules, relaxing censorship and releasing prisoners. In response, the United States and the European Union have eased sanctions on the country while calling for the release of all remaining political prisoners.
By visiting Myanmar, Obama is rushing to "normalize relations" with the country, Mark Farmaner, director Burma Campaign-UK, told The Guardian earlier in November.
"Burma isn't a normal country; it is not a democracy and still has one of the worst human rights records in the world." Farmaner said.
Obama, the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar, also will visit Thailand and Cambodia, where he will attend the Association of South-East Asian Nations summit.