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Myanmar military releases hundreds of political prisoners amid ASEAN snub

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Myanmar military releases hundreds of political prisoners amid ASEAN snub
Released detainees greet their friends and relatives from the bus as they come out from the Insein prison in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday. Photo by EPA-EFE

Oct. 19 (UPI) -- The military government of Myanmar said it has released hundreds of political prisoners who opposed the February takeover and plans to release thousands more.

The military junta said it has already freed more than 700 prisoners, most from a prison in Yangon. Military leaders said Monday that they planned to release more than 5,000 protesters who'd been arrested since the Feb. 1 military coup.

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The released prisoners are required to sign a pledge not to commit further acts of violence in Myanmar.

Officials said amnesty is being given to those convicted or charged for inciting anti-junta protests, but not for prisoners charged with terrorism.

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This week is the second time the military junta has released prisoners. More than 2,200 people charged with inciting protests were released in June.

The new releases came after a decision by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to exclude Myanmar junta chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming summit. The ASEAN chairman said there's been "insufficient progress" toward peace in Myanmar and said the group would "give space" to Myanmar to "return to normalcy."

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said on Monday that the junta's mass prisoner release is nothing but a tactic to "stop international condemnation."

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United Nations Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews echoed that feeling.

"The junta is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of a change of heart, but because of pressure," he said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Myanmar's military has killed hundreds in crackdowns and protests since the coup in February. The junta took power by claiming that parliamentary elections a year ago were rife with fraud and illegitimate. Civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi were arrested and charged an remain in custody.

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