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Myanmar releases 400 custom staff members

The military junta purged about one-fifth of its customs department in mid-November last year as part of an ongoing anti-graft drive.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2007 12:36 IST

Authorities in military-run Myanmar on Friday released nearly 400 customs staff who were hauled in for questioning over corruption allegations nearly three months ago.

Myanmar purged about one-fifth of its customs department in mid-November last year as part of an ongoing anti-graft drive, which began with the arrest and imprisonment of the customs chief.

A customs official, who did not wish to be named, told the agency that 372 of the 500 personnel taken in for questioning in November were released Friday without charge. About 100 customs staff remain in prison awaiting trial.

Family members and colleagues gathered at the Customs Department in central Yangon Friday to welcome the freed staff, who arrived from the notorious Insein prison north of the city in trucks at about 10:40 am.

They entered the customs building and were briefed by officials before being allowed to go home.

"We have to report to the Customs Department on Monday, but we don't know whether we can continue work or not, we have to wait to Monday," said one of the staff after the briefing. "I am very glad to be free," he added.

The purge of the Customs Department began last year with the arrest of the director general Khin Maung Lin in October.

He was sentenced to 66 years in prison for bribery and corruption, and was not among those released on Friday.

The charges and arrests apparently stemmed from claims of wrongdoing over the export of beans and pulses in 2005 at Yangon Port and at the Muse border post in northeastern Shan state.

Myanmar is one of the world's poorest countries, with an economy driven into the ground by decades of mismanagement under military rule and further crippled by economic sanctions by US and Europe over the lack of democratic reform.

Illegal cross-border trading accounts for a huge portion of the country's thriving black market, which economists believe is at least half the size of the formal economy.

First Published: Jan 26, 2007 12:36 IST