Myanmar releases Karen rebel leader

2012-03-19 14:21

Yangon - Myanmar granted amnesty on Monday to a Karen rebel leader who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for high treason.

Mahn Nyein Maung, a commander of the Karen National Union (KNU), had his sentence upheld by an appellate court last week. Authorities on Monday decided to include him in a general amnesty for hundreds of political prisoners granted January 14, said a government official who requested anonymity.

Mahn Nyein Maung was arrested in July 2011 for entering Thailand without a visa. Thai authorities deported him to Kunming, China, where he was deported to Myanmar, KNU spokesperson David Tharckabaw said.

"I think the government wants to show that they were following due process of law, so they waited until after the appeal court's verdict before granting him an amnesty," he said by telephone from his base on the Thai-Myanmar border.

The government signed a ceasefire on January 12 with the KNU, an ethnic minority insurgency that has been fighting for autonomy in the Karen State for the past 63 years.

The rebel leadership has been criticised for signing the peace pact without first winning concessions for a degree of self-rule.

"Freeing Mahn Nyein Maung gives the KNU leadership something to show for signing the ceasefire," said Tharckabaw. "It's a good gesture for trust-building."

The KNU is one of a half dozen ethnic minority insurgencies that have signed ceasefire agreements with Myanmar's government over the past three months.

Western democracies have demanded that President Thein Sein halt hostilities against ethnic minorities as a condition to normalising diplomatic ties and lifting economic sanctions imposed over the past two decades.