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Myanmar Frees 40 Political Prisoners Amid Amnesty for Detainees

Political Activist Htin Kyaw
Political activist Htin Kyaw, center, reacts after being released from Insein prison in Yangon. Photographer: Soe Than Win/AFP via Getty Images

Myanmar freed 40 political prisoners and granted amnesty to 200 others facing charges following President Thein Sein’s pledge to increase freedom in the country, according to a group representing the detainees.

Myanmar’s transition to democracy in 2012 prompted the U.S. and European Union to ease sanctions, with French oil company Total SA among new investors in the nation. U.S. President Barack Obama told Thein Sein in May that building democracy and ending human rights abuses will bring greater prosperity to the Southeast Asian country.

“We welcome the amnesty,” said Tun Kyi, a member of a Myanmar-based group working on behalf of the political prisoners.

Myanmar may attract as much as $100 billion in foreign direct investment over the next two decades if it spends enough to achieve its economic growth potential, McKinsey Global Institute said in a report in May.

The former military regime’s gross domestic product could more than quadruple to $200 billion with an 8 percent annual growth rate, according to McKinsey, almost double the pace from 1990 to 2010. That may help lure $170 billion in capital inflows, it said, with FDI accounting for $100 billion -- more than twice as much as it attracted in the previous two decades.

Thein Sein released at least 19 political prisoners, the Associated Press reported, before his White House visit in May. Human rights advocates had accused him of dragging his feet on promises for change and said many pledges haven’t been met, including a panel to review political prisoner cases.

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