YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s reformist government ordered more than 450 prisoners freed today in an amnesty apparently intended as a goodwill gesture ahead of a historic visit by President Barack Obama next week.
It was not clear whether any political prisoners will be among those released, but past amnesties have included both prisoners of conscience and common criminals.
The administration of President Thein Sein has made freedom for political prisoners a centerpiece of its reforms over the last year and a half to seek international favor after almost five decades of repressive army rule. Earlier amnesties helped convince Western nations, including the United States, to ease sanctions they had imposed against the previous military regime.
The announcement in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper comes just days before Monday’s planned visit by Obama, who will become the first sitting U.S. head of state to visit the country.
Under the now-defunct junta, which ceded power in 2011, rights groups said that more than 2,000 activists and government critics were wrongfully imprisoned.