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Myanmar frees 73 political prisoners: government committee member

Myanmar's President Thein Sein waves as he arrives at Yangon International Airport after returning from the U.S. May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Soe Z
Myanmar's President Thein Sein waves as he arrives at Yangon International Airport after returning from the U.S. May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Soe Z

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's government is releasing another 73 political prisoners and more could be freed in coming months to honor a commitment made by the president during a recent trip to Europe, a member of a government body looking into the process said on Tuesday.

President Thein Sein, a former general now heading a quasi-civilian government, has pushed through a series of political and economic reforms since a military government stepped aside in 2011.

He has freed hundreds of political detainees and promised in a speech in Britain last week to free all those still in prison by the end of this year.

"A total of 73 political prisoners are being released from various detention centers today," Hla Maung Shwe, a member of the Committee to Scrutinise Remaining Political Prisoners, told Reuters.

"The total number of remaining political prisoners has now dropped to lower than 100 for the first time in many years."

The government, embassies and other groups have different figures for the number of political detainees.

The military junta, and even Thein Sein's government in the past, rejected the term, but he set up the committee to examine the issue and decide which prisoners were inside for criminal acts and those there for political reasons.

The 19-member committee comprises 10 former political prisoners, six people appointed by the government and three mediators, including Hla Maung Shwe.

"The committee meets once a month and we expect the remaining political prisoners will be freed by the end of this year as the president said during his recent visit to Europe," Hla Maung Shwe added.

An official at the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, a pro-democracy activist group, confirmed the release of several dozen political prisoners, but said the group was still collecting names.

(Editing by Alan Raybould and Ron Popeski)

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