Myanmar can start new chapter after freeing Reuters journalists: UK's Hunt

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain welcomed Myanmar’s release of two Reuters journalists on Tuesday after more than 500 days in jail, a step that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said could open a new chapter in relations.

The journalists had been jailed and sentenced to seven years in prison after working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

“This is fantastic news for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been imprisoned unjustly for a very long time now,” Hunt told Reuters in an interview in London.

“I hope it can be the start of a new chapter in our relations with Myanmar, if, following this, we can also have the same kind of openness about the issues in Rakhine province for the Rohingyas.”

Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29 had been convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act in jail in a case that raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.

“All of us who support a free press are heaving a huge sigh of relief,” Hunt said.

“It’s a glimmer of hope because media freedom is on the decline in the world at the moment... This is a sign that actually, when the world sits up and decides to take action, you can get results.”

Slideshow ( 3 images )

But Hunt said Myanmar needed to address the substance of reported atrocities of the kind that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been investigating, adding that the United Nations had highlighted concern over events in Rakhine State.

“The UN report said that there were potentially some terrible atrocities, potentially genocide, potentially crimes against humanity,” Hunt said.

“If we’re going to solve this problem, then there needs to be accountability.”

On a trip to Myanmar last year, Hunt raised the case with Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and pressed her on the importance of holding the armed forces accountable for any atrocities.

“Today I think we have to give her credit for the fact that she did listen,” Hunt said of Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate.

“This is a person who has fought for freedom and democracy for all her life. She knows what it’s like to be on the wrong side of due process.”

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Gareth Jones