August 3, 2012 / 4:18 PM / 6 years ago

Myanmar frees ill festival bomber on death row

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s president on Friday pardoned a cancer-stricken man sentenced to death for killing 10 people in a festival bombing two years ago, the latest of hundreds of prisoners to be freed under the country’s reformist government.

Phyo Wai Aung, 33, who has liver cancer and is paralyzed from below the waist, was released four days after a visit to Yangon’s Insein Prison by United Nations Special Human Rights Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana, a family member told Reuters.

In May, he was sentenced to death for orchestrating a series of bombings during Myanmar’s New Year water festival in April 2010. The bombs killed 10 people and wounded at least 170.

Phyo Wai Aung was also accused of having links to armed exiled Myanmar radicals opposed to the army’s five-decade rule of the country, which ended in March last year.

“I just don’t know for sure why they freed me,” Phyo Wai Aung told the BBC Burmese-language service radio. “Is it because of the visit of Mr. Quintana or because of the demand by some right groups, or because of my illnesses?”

President Thein Sein, a former junta general credited with pushing through speedy reforms in Myanmar, has declared several amnesties since May last year, including the release of at least 650 political prisoners, whose freedom had been demanded by Western governments in order for sanctions to be eased.

Among those freed was Phado Man Nyein Maung, a senior political figure in the rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU), who was pardoned in March to facilitate peace talks with the government. He had been convicted of high treason.

Quintana is visiting Myanmar at a time when the government is facing mounting criticism over its handling of separate conflicts in Kachin and Rakhine states, where local and international activists say security forces have committed widespread human rights abuses.

Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Martin Petty and Andrew Osborn

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