U.N. sleuth tells Myanmar to free political prisoners

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THURSDAY, 25 AUGUST 2011

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights investigator for Myanmar said on Thursday he had urged the country’s military government to free what he called “large numbers” of political prisoners if they wanted to create a genuine democracy.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, an Argentine lawyer who was himself a prisoner under his nation’s military dictatorship, was speaking in the capital, Yangon, at the end of a five-day visit to Myanmar and talks with government and opposition figures.

“Of key concern to me and the international community is the continuing detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience,” he said in a statement released by the U.N.’s human rights office in Geneva.

He said he had told government leaders that the release of the prisoners “is a central and necessary step towards national reconciliation and would bring more benefit to Myanmar’s efforts towards democracy.”

Ojea Quintana, who reports to the U.N.’s 47-nation Human Rights Council in Geneva, said that during his visit — which included interviews with political detainees in a major prison — he heard disturbing testimonies of torture.

These included “the burning of body parts, including genital organs,” as well as the confining of prisoners “in cells normally used for prison dogs” and their use as porters for the military.

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