Friday, 26 March 2010

Myanmar rulers urged to free political prisoners

UNITED NATIONS — Myanmar's military rulers must free all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and ensure that upcoming polls are inclusive and transparent, a group of UN member states said Thursday.

The call came at a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends of Myanmar convened by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to review the country's new electoral laws that disqualify Suu Kyi ahead of what will be the first national polls in 20 years.

The group comprises Australia, Britain, China, the European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

"The group stressed the need for elections to be inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to advance the prospects of stability, democracy and development for all the people of Myanmar," Ban told reporters after the meeting.

He said participants also urged all parties to work in the national interest and the government to "create conditions that give all stakeholders the opportunity to participate freely in elections."

"This includes the release of all political prisoners,including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -- and respect for fundamental freedoms," he added.

Ban deplored the fact that despite the government's engagement with key parties to the national reconciliation process, "it is disappointing that we have not seen the progress that we had expected."

And he pointed to his comments earlier this month that Myanmar's "published electoral laws and the overall electoral environment so far do not fully measure up to what is needed for an inclusive political process."

The new laws relate to the registration of political parties and bar anyone serving a prison term from being a member of an official party.

Wednesday, the UN Security Council also examined Myanmar's new electoral laws, with several members also voicing concern about their impact on the upcoming polls.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has yet to announce whether it will take part in the polls, which are expected in October or November although the government has still not set a date.

The 64-year-old opposition leader has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years since the previous elections.

She was already barred from standing as a candidate under a new constitution approved in a 2008 referendum that stipulates that those married to foreigners are ineligible. Her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999.

The Nobel Peace laureate was sentenced to three years' jail last August over an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside home. The sentence was commuted by junta supremo Than Shwe to 18 months under house arrest.

No comments: