Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Burma preparing to free political prisoners

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Military-ruled Burma has said it is preparing to release some political prisoners in order to allow them to participate in the 2010 general election, a part of the junta’s roadmap to democracy for the Southeast Asian nation.

The announcement was made by the junta’s United Nations Ambassador, Than Swe, during a session of the UN Security Council and following a briefing by the world body's chief, Ban Ki-moon, on his latest visit to the country.

“At the request of the Secretary-General while in Myanmar [Burma], the Myanmar [Burma] 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,” Than Swe told members of the Security Council.

But Than Swe did not mention how many political prisoners will be released and whether the country's most prominent political prisoner, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, will be included.

Ban Ki-moon on Monday briefed the Security Council on his two-day visit, July 3-4, to Burma, during which the country’s military leader, Than Shwe, refused him a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ban said he was not only "deeply disappointed" over the General’s refusal to allow him a meeting with the detained pro-democracy leader, but also labeled his visit “a major lost opportunity for Myanmar [Burma].”

Ban said that during his visit he specifically proposed that the junta release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, resume a meaningful dialogue between with the opposition and create conditions conducive for credible and legitimate elections.

If the above issues are left unaddressed, Ban said, it could undermine any confidence in Burma’s political process.

Speaking to reporters in New York after his briefing to the Security Council, Ban said he told Burma’s Senior General that without releasing Aung San Suu Kyi the junta’s planned election in 2010 cannot be credible.

“I urged Senior General Than Shwe that this election should be fair and free, but also legitimate, inclusive and credible. To be credible and legitimate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners should be released,” Ban said.

“I emphasized that without the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi, without her being able to campaign freely, and without her NLD party [being able] to establish party offices all throughout the provinces, this election may not be regarded as credible and legitimate,” he added.

Ban said he conveyed his message of the international community’s expectations for Burma in the clearest terms possible, relating that it is now up to the junta “to respond positively in their country's own interest.”

He added the Burmese people will bear the cost of any lack of engagement and cooperation by their Government with the UN and the international community.

“That is why Myanmar's [Burma's] leaders have a responsibility, not only towards their own people, but also towards you as members of the international community, to respond to the proposals I made on your behalf,” Ban told the Council.

“The world is now watching closely whether they [the junta] will choose to act in the best interest of their country or ignore our concerns and expectations and the needs of their people,” he remarked.

Following Ban’s briefing, the United Kingdom, United States and France said Burma should match their words with deeds and called for stronger action by the Council.

France’s representative, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said, “The current impasse is no reason for the international community to do nothing. The council must respond firmly if she [Aung San Suu Kyi] is found guilty, but inaction must not be the price of its unity.”

But China, a long-time ally of the Burmese junta, opposed putting Burma on the UN Security Council agenda and is against further isolating and sanctioning the country, saying events happening in Burma are strictly internal affairs.

Liu Zhenmin, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN, expounded at an open Security Council meeting on Burma, "We believe that the events happening inside Myanmar [Burma] are the internal affairs of Myanmar [Burma] itself, which should be handled by its own government and people in consultation."

Liu added that the situation in Burma does not pose any threat to international or regional peace and security.

"China has explicitly opposed the inclusion of the Myanmar [Burma] question on the Security Council agenda. And we are against the policy of isolating and sanctioning against Myanmar [Burma]," Liu said.

But Liu maintained China remains steadfast in its support of the efforts of Ban Ki-moon and his special representative to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, in their continued engagement with the country's military authorities.

He said China will continue in helping the government of Burma in its efforts to address the country's problems in a responsible and constructive manner. Liu also called on members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other regional countries to join hands in assisting Burma out of its current difficulties.

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