Myanmar says it’s working for ‘free and fair’ vote, but doesn’t mention prisoners

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Myanmar: working for ‘free and fair’ vote

UNITED NATIONS — Myanmar failed to answer international pleas to release detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, telling other nations Tuesday that it is striving to ensure its first elections in two decades are “free and fair.”

Foreign Minister U Nyan Win spoke one day after foreign ministers from key nations warned Myanmar’s military junta that the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners is “essential” for Nov. 7 elections to be seen as credible. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, has been jailed or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after a closed-door meeting Monday night 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 Monday gathering and no immediate response from the government.

Speaking on Tuesday, Win did not mention the foreign ministers meeting or the international demand for the release of political prisoners before the ballot.

“Myanmar is confident in its ability to conduct the elections in an orderly manner,” he said. “Whatever the challenges facing us, we are committed to do our best for the successful holding of the free and fair general elections for the best interest of the country and its people.”

Government critics have called the upcoming elections a sham designed to cement nearly 50 years of military rule.

Ban said the ministers stressed that the release of Suu Kyi and the other prisoners is “essential for the election to be seen as credible and to contribute to Myanmar’s stability and development.”

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 of 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.

Suu Kyi co-founded the now-disbanded National League for Democracy 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.

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