Nations say Myanmar must free Suu Kyi, other political prisoners for election to be credible

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nations warn Myanmar to free prisoners

UNITED NATIONS — Foreign ministers from key nations warned Myanmar’s military junta Monday that the release of political prisoners including detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is “essential” for upcoming elections to be seen as credible, the U.N. chief said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after a closed-door meeting that the ministers reiterated the need for the election process “to be more inclusive, participatory and transparent.” There was no representative from Myanmar at the gathering and no immediate response from the government.

The Nov. 7 elections will be Myanmar’s first in two decades. They are part of the junta’s long-announced “roadmap to democracy,” which critics deride as a sham designed to cement nearly 50 years of military rule.

Suu Kyi’s disbanded National League for Democracy party marked what would be its 22nd anniversary Monday under tight surveillance. The military government dissolved the party earlier this year it after deciding to boycott the election.

Ban said the ministers stressed that it is “essential for the election to be seen as credible and to contribute to Myanmar’s stability and development.”

“The group further reiterated its commitment to work together to help Myanmar address its political, humanitarian and development challenges in parallel with equal attention,” the U.N. chief said, adding that the ministers were unified “in calling on Myanmar to make further efforts towards national reconciliation and democracy.”

Ban met with senior officials from Myanmar during the current ministerial session and said he would “continue my dialogue” in Hanoi at the upcoming summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN.

The so-called Friends on Myanmar group that met Monday includes about 15 countries, including Myanmar’s neighbors, interested Asian and European nations, and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members: the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France.

Ban said the group agreed that the run-up to the election “will be critical for Myanmar” and expressed “their encouragement, concerns and expectations.”

Several hours before the meeting, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell told reporters on a conference call that Washington is “disappointed by the steps that the government has taken in advance of the upcoming election.”

“There is no sign that there will be legitimacy associated with this process,” said Campbell, who represented the U.S. at the meeting. “Recent reports that balloting will be deeply restricted in ethnic areas is worrisome.”

“All that being said, we also recognize that after the election there may be a different correlation of players, different relationships, different actors that may emerge that could create the opportunity for some sort of engagement that would advance not only American interests, but the interests of others in the region and the dispossessed in the country as a whole,” Campbell said.

Suu Kyi co-founded the now-disbanded political party amid massive pro-democracy protests in August 1988 and officially registered it on Sept. 27, 1988, after the demonstrations were violently suppressed by the junta.

The party won 1990 elections by a landslide, but the results were not recognized by the military, which took power in 1962 when the country was known as Burma. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, has been jailed or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years.


Associated Press Writer Peter James Spielmann contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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