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Burma marks independence day by granting prisoners amnesty

Burma's military rulers commuted sentences and released prisoners, but opposition activists were unsatisfied.

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Myanmar President Thein Sein meets with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a meeting in Naypyidaw, Myanmar in 2011. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Burma's government granted amnesty to hundreds of prisoners in honor of its independence day, CNN reported. However, human rights groups are dissatisfied with the number of political prisoners that were freed.  

There were around 12 political detainees granted amnesty out of as many as 900 prisoners that were released, Naing Naing, a senior official from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party, told Reuters

Burma, also called Myanmar, marks its 1948 independence from Britain today.

A decree by President Thein Sein, which was published in a state-run newspaper on Tuesday, freed prisoners "for the sake of state peace and stability, the rule of law, national consolidation" and humanitarian grounds, CNN reported. The decree reduces some death sentences to life in prison, as well as minimizes sentences longer than 30 years down to 30 and reduces shorter prison terms by 25 percent.

A senior official from Yangon's Insein prison told Reuters that more than 900 people had been freed on Tuesday from that jail alone. Activists, however, are citing much lower numbers of released prisoners. 

"We have received information from Burma there are about 33 prisoners released yesterday," Aung Myo Thein, a spokesman for the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a nonprofit organization based in Thailand that advocates on behalf of political prisoners in Burma, told CNN. None of those released appeared to be high-profile detainees, according to Thein.

More from GlobalPost: Burma to free thousands of prisoners

Burma, which was ruled by the military from 1962 until it was replaced by a civilian government in March, has been trying to repair its relations with the West. Many western countries, including the United States, have trade embargoes against Burma, which were instituted over the past 20 years because of the country's poor human rights record. 

Burma released about 200 political prisoners along with more than 6,000 other inmates in October, according to CNN. The AAPP called those releases "disingenuous" and "unsatisfactory," saying that many prominent dissidents remained behind bars.

The United States has tried to renew relations with Burma in recent years; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a trip to the region in November to meet with Sein. 

More from GlobalPost: Clinton Visits Burma: Steps Toward Openness in a Pariah State

Victoria Nuland, a US State Department spokeswoman, told reporters on Tuesday that more prisoners needed to be released before Washington would consider taking "more steps towards normalization."

"From that perspective, it's not a step of the magnitude that we would be interested in matching," Nuland said of the releases. 

More from GlobalPost: What to do about Burma

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120104/myanmar-grants-prisoners-amnesty