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Burma promises prisoner amnesty

Military-dominated Burma said its democratic reforms were irreversible and promised a prisoner amnesty in the near future.

Foreign minister Wanna Maung Lwin told the United Nations General Assembly that talks last month between Burma's president and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi were intended to put aside differences and find common grounds to co-operate.

The minister urged nations to lift economic sanctions.

In November, Burma held its first elections in 20 years. The new government is nominally civilian but remains dominated by the military, which has ruled since 1962.

Western nations are urging Burma to free its more than 2,000 political prisoners and reconcile with Ms Suu Kyi, whose party won 1990 elections but was barred from taking power. The party boycotted the November poll, saying the rules governing it were unfair.

Wanna Maung Lwin gave no details about the planned amnesty, other than that it would happen "at an appropriate time in the near future".

"We hope the near future will come very soon," said British ambassador to the UN Sir Mark Lyall Grant, after a meeting later of the Friends of Burma, a group of about 15 interested Western and Asian nations.

In his address, Wanna Maung Lwin referred to a May amnesty granted by president Thein Sein that he said led to the release of 20,000 prisoners by the end of July.

Western nations were, however, disappointed, as only a few dozen political detainees were reportedly freed.

Another amnesty could be well-timed. Burma is vying to win the support of neighbouring governments for its bid to chair the Association of South-east Asian Nations in 2014. ASEAN leaders may reach a decision at a summit this November.

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