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Myanmar’s military junta to free top Australian aide to Aung San Suu Kyi and ex-British envoy in release of 700 prisoners: ‘Remarkable’

  • Military junta set to free imprisoned foreigners to mark National Victory Day
  • Sean Turnell, Australian advisor of jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to be released
  • Former British ambassador Vicky Burrows also among 700 prisoners to be freed
  • Their imminent release has been described as ‘remarkable’ by analysts

A top Australian aide to deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the former British ambassador are set to be freed today by their military junta captors.

Australian-born Professor Sean Turnell, 58, was working as an economics adviser to Myanmar’s civilian leader when he was detained shortly after the coup in February last year.

In September, he and Suu Kyi were convicted of breaching the official secrets act and jailed for three years each by a closed junta court.

British envoy Vicky Bowman, 56, ambassador from 2002 to 2006, was detained with her husband in August for failing to declare she was living at an address different from the one listed on her foreigner’s registration certificate. 

They were later jailed for one year. Her husband, prominent Myanmar artist Htein Lin, will also be freed, the official said.

‘Professor Turnell’s release is remarkable news after being held hostage by the regime, and his family and friends will be delighted,’ independent analyst David Mathieson told AFP.

But he said the junta ‘shows no sign of reform and a mass amnesty doesn’t absolve them of atrocities committed since the coup.’

The pardons are part of a release of 700 prisoners by the military junta to celebrate Myanmar’s National Victory Day, a senior officer told AFP.

Japanese journalist Toru Kubota, 26, will also be freed under the amnesty after he was detained in July near an anti-government rally in Yangon along with two Myanmar citizens and jailed for 10 years.

British envoy Vicky Bowman (pictured), ambassador from 2002 to 2006, was detained with her husband in August for failing to declare she was living at a different address

British envoy Vicky Bowman (pictured), ambassador from 2002 to 2006, was detained with her husband in August for failing to declare she was living at a different address

The foreign nationals are expected to be released from jail today and then immediately deported out of the country.

Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade has refused to comment on the reports but sources in the Japanese embassy in Myanmar confirmed they had been informed of Mr Kubota’s imminent release.

Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained in Myanmar, after US citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan – all of whom were later freed and deported.

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As of March this year, 48 journalists remain in custody across the country, according to the monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.

Families gathered outside Insein prison in Yangon ahead of the expected announcement, an AFP reporter said.

The south-east Asian country has been in turmoil since the military's coup overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi (pictured) last year and a bloody crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands jailed

The south-east Asian country has been in turmoil since the military’s coup overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi (pictured) last year and a bloody crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands jailed

Three former ministers from Suu Kyi’s ousted government and detained US-Myanmar citizen Kyaw Htay Oo would also be released, the junta official said.

The south-east Asian country has been in turmoil since the military’s coup last year and a bloody crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands jailed.

The military’s crackdown on dissent since it ousted Suu Kyi’s government has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.

The junta blames anti-coup fighters for the deaths of almost 3,900 civilians.

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