UN chief tells Myanmar to deliver on poll pledge

UNITED NATIONS, Gerard Aziakou - UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday pressed Myanmar to free political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, to ensure "credible and legitimate" polls next year as the country's UN envoy dangled the prospect of an amnesty.
"The (Myanmar) government needs to deliver on the promise to make the 2010 elections inclusive, free and fair and to take the necessary steps on my specific proposals in the very near future," Ban said, briefing the UN Security Council on his visit to Myanmar earlier this month.

UN chief tells Myanmar to deliver on poll pledge
Ban made it clear that for the poll to be viewed as fair, political prisoners, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained members of her National League for Democracy (NLD), must be released and allowed to campaign freely.
"The choice for Myanmar's leaders in the coming days and weeks will be between meeting that responsibility in the interest of all concerned, or failing their own people and each one of you," he said.
"The world is now watching closely whether they will choose to act in the best interest of their country or ignore our concerns and expectations and the needs of their people."
In a conciliatory rejoinder, Myanmar's UN envoy said his government "intends to implement all appropriate recommendations that the secretary general had proposed."
Ambassador Than Swe specifically said the military regime was preparing an amnesty for political prisoners on humanitarian grounds so they can contest next year's general elections.
"At the request of the (UN) Secretary General, the Myanmar government is processing to grant amnesty to prisoners on humanitarian grounds and with a view to enabling them to participate in the 2010 general elections," he told the Council. He gave no further details
Ban welcomed the statement, telling reporters: "This is encouraging but I have to continue to follow up how they will implement all the issues raised during my visit to Myanmar."
He said that he was "not quite sure who will be included in the amnesty," but added, "I have made it quite clear that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be released and free to participate in the elections."
Earlier in his address to the council, Ban described the junta's refusal to allow him to meet with the jailed opposition leader as "a deep disappointment but also a major lost opportunity for Myanmar."
Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces an internationally condemned trial for violating the terms of her house arrest, has been either jailed or under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years since the junta refused to recognize her National League for Democracy's victory in Myanmar's last elections, in 1990.
She faces up to five years in jail if convicted of violating her house arrest rules, after an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside home in May.
Myanmar's UN ambassador pleaded for understanding of his country's predicament.
"Undue pressure from the outside without fully comprehending the challenges faced by Myanmar will not be conducive to the country's home-grown political process," he said.
Western members of the council strongly backed Ban's demands.
"There can be no free and fair elections while key leaders of Burma’s democratic opposition,including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 other political prisoners, languish in Burma’s prisons," US delegate Rosemary DiCarlo told the council."
"Now is the time for Burma to match its words with deeds... When Burma demonstrates its willingness to respond to the international community’s demands and commit to genuine progress toward reform, the United States stands ready to respond," she added.
Britain's deputy UN ambassador Philip Parham also slammed the Myanmar regime, saying its failure to take advantage of Ban's visit to "transform its relationship with the international community... has only served to isolate it further."
"We can only hope that we may yet see progress in the coming days; It is not too late. But if it does not come, and if we see an unjust outcome in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, the international community will need to follow the Secretary General’s lead and respond robustly," Parham warned.

Monday, July 13th 2009
Gerard Aziakou

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