Australian freed in Myanmar amnesty lands in Melbourne

Australian economist Sean Turnell (L) stands with fellow economist Tim Harcourt during the Australia Myanmar Institute conference at Yangon University in Yangon, Myanmar, November 2017, in this picture obtained from social media on November 17, 2022. Tim Harcourt/via REUTERS

SYDNEY, Nov 18 (Reuters) - An Australian adviser to deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, returned home on Friday, Australia's foreign minister said, a day he was released from detention by the Southeast Asian nation's military junta in a mass amnesty.

The plane carrying Sean Turnell, an economist who had worked with the Nobel Peace laureate, touched down in Melbourne just before noon on Friday, according to state broadcaster ABC. Turnell travelled from Myanmar to Bangkok before boarding an overnight flight to Australia.

Turnell was arrested a few days after the army seized power from Suu Kyi's elected government in February last year, ending a decade of tentative democracy. In September, he was sentenced to three years prison for violating the official secrets act and immigration law, charges he denied.

"His return will be an enormous relief to his family, friends and many supporters in Australia and across the region," foreign minister Penny Wong said in a statement on Friday.

"The Australian Government remains deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, and we will continue to advocate for the release of the remaining political prisoners."

Turnell was among almost 6,000 prisoners released to mark Myanmar's national day on Thursday, which also included a former British ambassador, a Japanese filmmaker and a U.S. citizen.

Turnell's wife Ha Vu said she was "over the moon and speechless" in a post on social media.

"When Sean was asked by a Myanmar official upon his departure 'do you hate Myanmar now?'," wrote Ha Vu.

"Sean said 'I never hate Myanmar, I love the people of Myanmar, and it’s always like that.'”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is in Bangkok for the APEC summit, spoke with Turnell on Thursday and said "he was in amazingly good spirits." He also thanked the prime ministers of Cambodia and Thailand for urging the military junta to release Turnell.

Reporting by Lewis Jackson and Alasdair Pal Editing by Lincoln Feast

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