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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 12:36 GMT
Burma releases pregnant women
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest
The military government in Burma has released 28 pregnant women from jail on humanitarian grounds.

The women, in prison for various offences, were the second batch of pregnant women to be freed - 68 were released last week.

The move was apparently timed to coincide with the consecration of a giant new stone Buddha in Rangoon.

I hope in the weeks ahead there will be more releases

UN envoy Razali Ismail
Buddhist tradition holds that merits for the next life can be gained by such gestures.

Also last week, five political prisoners were released from detention - all members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

It followed a recent visit by the United Nations human rights envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who urged the authorities to release all political prisoners, and to speed up the process.

Secret talks

The BBC Burmese affairs analyst says the releases could be seen as a move by Rangoon to engage the UN and set a precedent for future political releases.

More than 200 opposition members are reported to have been released since the Burmese Government began talks on national reconciliation with the NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in October 2000.

Speaking after last week's releases, the United Nations special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail said: "The fact that they released people in big numbers is a change from the earlier releases, which were a handful of people.

"I hope in the weeks ahead there will be more releases and I hope soon that Aung San Suu Kyi herself will be out of the custody of her house."

Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in Rangoon since September 2000. The NLD says about 800 of its activists are still in prison.

The NLD won Burma's last democratic elections in 1990, but the military prevented it from taking power.

Burmese military officials told the BBC that there would be no umbrella release of political prisoners, but that they are considering freeing activists in batches of up to 200 at a time.

Diplomats in Rangoon the question of whether Aung San Suu Kyi might be released is independent of the issue of political prisoners.

BBC Burma analyst Larry Jagan says there is growing speculation in Rangoon that Aung San Suu Kyi may be released soon, perhaps before the end of next month's Water Festival.

Is it time that sanctions were lifted?
Should sanctions against Burma be lifted?



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See also:

01 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Five freed in Burma
25 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Burma police block Suu Kyi visit
19 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
UN envoy 'satisfied' with Burma trip
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Burma's generals feel the heat
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Aung San Suu Kyi meets Burma general
15 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
ILO builds pressure over forced labour
05 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Burma's slow road to reform
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