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Burma frees 20 political prisoners

Burma's military-backed government has released 20 political prisoners, months before it is scheduled to hand over power to an elected pro-democracy party.

The released detainees said prison authorities declared that they were among 101 prisoners including common criminals who were released from Insein Prison in Yangon's northern outskirts.

"Early this morning, the prison guards called the names of 20 political prisoners and told us to pack up and get ready to go back home," said Soe Zaw, a 44-year-old political prisoner released after 14 months in prison.

"Our families were not informed," she added.

More than 1,300 political prisoners have been freed by President Thein Sein's military-backed government, which took power in 2011 after an election that marked an end to almost five decades of direct military rule. Activists say several hundred political offenders are still detained or await trial.

Visiting US deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken has urged the government to release all remaining political prisoners.

Burma is set for a change of government after the National League for Democracy party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won an easy majority in last November's general election, dislodging Thein Sein's Union Solidarity and Development party, which was widely considered a proxy for the military.

"There shouldn't be any political activists in prison in this government's so-called democratic country," said Aung Myo Kyaw, a spokesperson for the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent human rights organisation.

According to the group, 272 political activists were arrested in 2015, of whom 180 have been imprisoned. At least four activists were detained in the past few months over postings on Facebook.

"There are a lot of political prisoners still in prison. I cannot be happy because many of our fellows are still inside," said Ba Myint, a political prisoner released on Friday. "We hope other political prisoners are released soon, too."

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