Former British ambassador among detainees freed in Myanmar

Vicky Bowman was jailed for a year in September

Former British ambassador Vicky Bowman was among several people freed in Myanmar. Bloomberg
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A former British ambassador jailed in Myanmar left Yangon on Thursday after several prominent detainees were released in a mass amnesty by the country's junta.

Vicky Bowman, who was jailed for a year in September, landed in Bangkok along with Australian economic adviser Sean Turnell and Japanese journalist Toru Kubota.

Almost 6,000 people have been released from prison, state TV has said, in a mass amnesty to coincide with the country's National Day.

MRTV said 5,774 prisoners would be released, including 712 people it described as political prisoners.

Ms Bowman served as UK ambassador to Myanmar from 2002 to 2006 and was head of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business. She was arrested with her husband Htein Lin for an alleged breach of immigration laws.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly welcomed the release of Ms Bowman and others held in Myanmar.

Ties between Myanmar and its former colonial ruler the UK have soured since the military's takeover, with the junta this year criticising the UK's recent downgrading of its mission there as “unacceptable”.

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

Mr Turnell was working as an adviser to Myanmar's civilian leader Ms Suu Kyi when he was detained shortly after the coup in February 2021.

Mr Kubota's release was reported by Japan's Kyodo news agency. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month, convicted of sedition, among other charges, after being arrested at a protest in Yangon.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also welcomed the amnesties.

“It is one bright spot in what is otherwise an incredibly dark time,” Mr Blinken told reporters at a summit in Bangkok.

“We will never stop working to secure the release of US nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” he later tweeted.

More than 2,300 civilians have been killed since the military ousted Ms Suu Kyi's government, according to a Myanmar monitoring group.

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

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 4:39 PM