US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday appealed for Myanmar’s remaining political prisoners to be freed, following previous releases under reforms in the military-dominated state.
“We also would like to see the release of any continued political prisoners,” Clinton told reporters during a press conference with Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.
Myanmar said it freed more than 300 political prisoners in an amnesty in January, a move which prompted the US to pledge it would restore full diplomatic ties.
About 200 others were let out in October last year, and estimates of the number still behind bars vary.
The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says that more than 900 political prisoners remain locked up in Myanmar, while the National League for Democracy party estimates their number at about 330.
The minister said most of the people on lists received from the EU and the US have been released, but some of those left in prison have committed criminal offenses or are linked to terrorist activities.
However, he said Burmese President Thein Sein “will further grant amnesties when appropriate.”
Clinton’s remarks came the same day that US President Barack Obama eased investment curbs on Myanmar and named the first US ambassador to the country in more than 20 years, hoping to reward a “nascent” political reform drive.
However, Obama, seeking maximum leverage on Myanmar’s nominally civilian government and to preserve his options in case of “backsliding,” maintained wider US sanctions on Myanmar and figures linked to the former junta.
“As an iron fist has unclenched in Burma, we have extended our hand, and are entering a new phase in our engagement on behalf of a more democratic and prosperous future for the Burmese people,” Obama said in a statement.
The US government will now license certain types of investment in financial services and allow US businesses to work in Myanmar, but will ensure that those who abuse human rights and seek to slow progress do not benefit.
The president’s move followed calls from business and political figures in the US, Europe and Asia to lift sanctions, and warnings by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi against excessive optimism over a political opening.
That decision could usher in the first major trade and investment between the US and Myanmar for years, and help pry open the country’s backward economy, that has been left behind by speeding Southeast Asian development.
The US government will advise companies on where and whether to invest in Myanmar and would maintain restrictions on investment with the military, which has deep commercial interests in the country’s economy.
Obama on Thursday also nominated Derek Mitchell, who has been serving as the State Department’s special representative to Myanmar, as US ambassador, pending confirmation by the US Senate.