Myanmar president frees 83 political prisoners

Myanmar's new President Htin Kyaw arrives for a dinner reception following swearing in ceremony in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ye Aung Thu/Pool

By Aung Hla Tun YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's new president has pardoned 83 prisoners held for political crimes, officials said Sunday, just weeks after the first government in half a century not connected to the military took office. The order, signed by President Htin Kyaw on Saturday, said the pardon was aimed at "national reconciliation and peace of mind" as part of celebrations of the Myanmar new year. "As far as I know, (those being released) are people considered by rights groups to be political prisoners," a senior prison department official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters. Among those released were four journalists and an executive from the newspaper Unity Journal, who were sentenced to 10 years hard labor in 2014 for reporting on an alleged military chemical weapons factory, he said. The new National League for Democracy (NLD) government of former detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has released or dropped charges against 282 people accused of political crimes since taking power on April 1. The NLD stormed to power in national elections on November 1, displacing a quasi-civilian government put in place when generals ceded full power in 2011. The military, however, still controls key ministries overseeing defense, internal security and local governance. The latest release still leaves dozens of political prisoners locked up, with hundreds of others still facing charges brought against them under the previous government. (Writing By Aubrey Belford; Editing by Michael Perry)