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U.N. head welcomes Myanmar dissidents release

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  • NEW: U.N. chief welcomes release of dissidents in Myanmar
  • U Win Tin, Myanmar's longest serving political prisoner, among dissidents freed
  • Amnesty: There are many, many more who should also be released
  • Release comes a year after deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday applauded the release of several political prisoners by the government of Myanmar, including the nation's longest-serving political prisoner.

"The Secretary-General reiterates that all political prisoners should be released and that all citizens of Myanmar should be able to enjoy political freedoms, as necessary steps towards the process of national reconciliation and dialogue," said a statement issued by a spokesperson for Ban.

Amnesty International announced Tuesday Myanmar had released seven dissidents.

Among them was U Win Tin, 78, a journalist and senior official in the opposition National League for Democracy. He had been imprisoned for 19 years.

"While the release of U Win Tin and his fellow prisoners is certainly the best news to come out of Myanmar for a long time, unfortunately they don't even represent one percent of the political prisoners there," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty's Myanmar researcher.

"These seven people should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and there are many, many more who should also be released."

The releases came on a day when the ruling military junta freed more than 9,000 prisoners for "good conduct and discipline," the government-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

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Myanmar's military rulers have been widely condemned for their human rights abuses.

Pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been confined in her home for 12 of the last 18 years. Her latest house arrest began in 2003 and has been periodically renewed.

One year ago this week, clashes erupted between pro-democracy demonstrators and government security forces. As many as 110 people are believed to have been killed in that crackdown, including 40 Buddhist monks.

The protests were sparked by a huge fuel price increase imposed by the military government, and quickly escalated. Myanmar's military junta said in mid-October that it had detained more than 2,900 people during the crackdown.

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