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Myanmar releases 44 political prisoners

Muslim Rohingyas are shown at a camp of internally displaced persons (IDP), located on the outskirts of Sittwe, capital of Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine. (File photo)

December 12, 2013

Myanmar has freed 44 political detainees as foreign dignitaries have gathered in the capital Yangon for the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games, a presidential adviser says.

"In total, 44 political prisoners have been released around the country today," AFP quoted Hla Maung Shwe as saying. 

President Thein Sein has pledged to release all political prisoners in the country by the end of the year. 

This comes as the opening ceremony for the South East Asian Games in Myanmar will take place on Wednesday. It is the first time in more than 40 years that the biggest sporting event in the region will be hosted by Myanmar. 

Despite violations of human rights by Myanmar’s government, Washington has eased sanctions on the Asian country and many US companies are looking at starting operations in Myanmar with its abundant resources and low-cost labor. 

There are ongoing violence against the Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine. 

Myanmar has recently rejected a UN resolution urging the government to grant citizenship to the country’s Rohingya Muslims and to put an end to Buddhist violence against the highly-persecuted minority. 

Presidential spokesman, Ye Htut, said on November 21 that the United Nations could not pressure Myanmar into changing its stance over the citizenship issue. 

The Southeast Asian country passed a citizenship law in 1982, under which minorities must prove they had lived in Myanmar prior to 1823 to obtain nationality. The law recognizes eight races and 130 minority groups, but effectively denies some 800,000 Rohingya Muslims the right to citizenship. 

Rohingya Muslims have been suffering torture, discrimination, and repression for many years. Hundreds of them are believed to have been killed and thousands displaced in attacks by Buddhist extremists. 

The extremists frequently attack the Rohingya Muslims and set fire to their homes in several villages in Rakhine. Myanmar Army forces allegedly provide them with petrol for torching the houses of Muslim villagers, who are then forced to flee. 

Violence against Muslims in Myanmar has been spearheaded by radical Buddhist monks who see the presence of a Muslim population as a threat. This is while the government is also accused of failing to protect the Muslims. 

The deadly violence against the Rohingya has raised international concern and drawn condemnation of the government's handling of the minority, which the UN describes as among the world's most persecuted.

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