Myanmar committee to 'grant liberty' to dissidents

Myanmar's leader has set up a committee to review political prisoner cases "to grant them liberty", state media said Thursday, in a rare direct acknowledgement of dissidents in the nation's jails.

The regime, which long denied their existence, has freed hundreds of political detainees since President Thein Sein took power in March 2011, and announced a review of all "politically concerned" cases in November last year.

The latest statement referred specifically to "political prisoners" and pledged to define who is a "prisoner of conscience" among those jailed -- many for several years or more -- and work towards their release.

The committee members are yet to be picked, but will be made up of government representatives as well as civil society groups and other political party members, the statement in the English-language New Light of Myanmar said.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said the issue of prisoner releases was key towards achieving "national reconciliation".

But first, "it is important to decide who will be designated as political prisoners", he told AFP.

The government pledged the case review last year, and promised to allow the Red Cross to resume its prison visits, in a bid to burnish its reform credentials ahead of a landmark visit by US President Barack Obama in November.

In response to the country's political reforms, the West has begun rolling back sanctions and foreign firms are lining up to invest in the country.

Rights groups have accused Myanmar of wrongfully imprisoning some 2,000 political opponents, dissidents and journalists during decades of authoritarian junta rule.

Estimates of the number of political detainees still locked up vary but the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based campaign group, put the figure at 222 in a list posted on its website last month.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 11 hours ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners 12 hours ago
    Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

  • Why you can't buy America's greenest car 15 hours ago
    Why you can't buy America's greenest car

    Ask me or any auto expert what's the fastest car you can buy for any given amount, and we could easily cough up several options. Same for most luxurious, or off-roadable, or any other measurement. Yet there's one type of question that's far harder to answer: What's the greenest, most environmentally friendly car you can buy today?

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • David Moyes statement after Man United firing
    David Moyes statement after Man United firing

    Statement released by David Moyes on Wednesday, a day after Manchester United announced he left as manager after less than a season in charge.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.