Myanmar has announced the release of almost 7,000 prisoners on presidential pardons, making the move the latest in a series of amnesties by President Thein Sein’s reformist government.
A statement released by the information ministry on Thursday said 6,966 prisoners, which includes 210 foreigners, would be freed from various prisons across the country “on humanitarian grounds and in view of national reconciliation”.
Those pardoned include eight former senior military intelligence officers who since 2004 have been serving jail terms of 80 years or more, members of their families told journalists.
Part of those freed also include former Brigadier General 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.
Among the foreigners to be freed were 155 Chinese citizens jailed last week for illegal logging, official media sources said.
It was not clear if pro-democracy activists were among those being freed. The vast majority of those released in mass pardons are common criminals.
The 210 foreigners freed are expected to be deported, China’s state Xinhua news agency reported.
No official lists of pardoned prisoners are issued, so the names of those freed usually come from the prisoners themselves, or their families.
The Chinese loggers were arrested in January in a crackdown on Myanmar’s lucrative illegal logging and timber trade. More than 400 vehicles and 1,600 logs were seized during the raid, state media said at the time.
China lodged a diplomatic protest and expressed “extreme” concern about the verdict against its citizens, 153 of whom were given life sentences.
The pardons by President Thein Sein, which is effective from Thursday are timed to coincide with a Buddhist religious holiday and come ahead of November’s general election. The polls have triggered several criticism of Thein Sein’s government when he came to power in 2011 after almost five decades of military rule.