UNITED NATIONS — Myanmar will free more prisoners in the future, the country's foreign minister told the UN on Tuesday, without saying whether these would include political detainees.
Foreign Minister U Wanna Maung Lwin, making the country's first address to the UN General Assembly since a nominally civilian government took power, also appealed for the lifting of international sanctions.
Seeking to boost the government's international image, Lwin said that since a first amnesty was decreed by the military-backed President Thein Sein in May about 20,000 inmates had been released.
The minister also highlighted a deal reached with some armed opposition ethnic groups in August and how a national human rights commission started work this month.
"The president in exercising the mandate vested upon him by the constitution will further grant an amnesty at an appropriate time in the near future," Lwin said.
Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has said she believes the president wants "positive" change in the country which had been ruled by a junta for decades up to the elections last November.
But many governments say they want to see more proof of the change and rights groups are wary of the Myanmar government's public statements.
"The foreign minister would be more convincing if the government released all political prisoners and held security forces accountable for the brutal suppression of monks and peaceful protesters exactly four years ago," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
The minister did not say if the estimated 2,000 political prisoners would be among those who would qualify for the new amnesty.
But he did say that sanctions by the United States, European Union and other countries were hurting the poor nation.
"It is regrettable that the government's efforts to improve the livelihood of the people are hampered by the economic sanctions," he said, calling for a lifting of the "unilateral sanctions."
"Myanmar has transformed towards a democratic nation in a smooth and peaceful manner," said Lwin.
"The steps taken by the government of Myanmar are concrete, visible and irreversible," he added. "Myanmar has strong determination to continue implementing the democratization process amidst all the challenges."
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