YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's military junta released on Thursday five high-profile dissidents it arrested in September at a time of intensifying international pressure on the ruling generals to take concrete steps towards democracy.
"We were all sent back home at about 1:30 this morning," Min Ko Naing, a leader of a pro-democracy student uprising in 1988, told Reuters. He said he and his colleagues were in good health.
He gave no reasons for their sudden and unexpected release by the former Burma's military rulers, who also freed 40 political detainees last week as part of a mass prisoner release to mark the 59th anniversary of independence from Britain.
Anti-junta pressure groups said it was designed to deflect attention from efforts by the United States to get the United Nations Security Council to press Myanmar this week into easing repression and beginning a promised transition to democracy.
"This looks like nothing but a cynical ploy to stop the UN Security Council from taking action," said Aung Din, policy director of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma.
The other freed activists are Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Htay Kywe, Ko Pyone Cho and Ko Min Zeya, all of whom played prominent roles in the nationwide 1988 protests in which several thousand people were killed after the army moved in to quell the dissent.
Since 1988, each has spent between nine and 15 years behind bars. Within the country, they are viewed as the most prominent anti-junta figures after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate who is under house arrest.
Myanmar has been under military rule of one form or another since 1962. The present junta suffered a landslide election defeat to Suu Kyi's National League Democracy in 1990, but ignored the result.
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