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Authorities say they will grant prisoners amnesty before elections

Latest update : 2009-07-14

Burma is planning to amnesty prisoners to allow them to participate in national elections next year, at the request of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the country’s UN envoy has said. It is not known if Aung San Suu Kyi will be included.

REUTERS - Myanmar is planning to amnesty prisoners to enable them to take part in national elections next year, at the request of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the country’s U.N. envoy said on Monday.

But, addressing the U.N. Security Council, Ambassador Than Swe did not say how many political prisoners would be released, or when, or whether they would include key figures like opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

During a July 3-4 visit to Myanmar, Ban pressed the ruling military junta to free all political prisoners, including Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, who is on trial on charges of breaking the conditions of her house arrest.

“At the request of the secretary-general, the Myanmar government is processing to grant amnesty to prisoners on humanitarian ground and with a view to enabling them to participate in the 2010 general elections,” Than Swe said, speaking in English.

He said the Myanmar government “intends to implement all appropriate recommendations that (the) secretary-general had proposed.” But during Ban’s visit the junta refused to allow him to meet Suu Kyi, saying this could influence her trial.

Rights groups say there are more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar. If the government releases a significant number of them, the move could be seen as justifying Ban’s trip, which many analysts have so far portrayed as a failure.

Ban himself reacted cautiously to Than Swe’s comments. The U.N. chief, who earlier briefed the Security Council on his visit, told reporters: “This is encouraging, but I will have to continue to follow up how they will implement all the issues raised during my visit in Myanmar.”

“I am not quite sure ... who will be included in this amnesty,” he added.


The Myanmar government has amnestied prisoners before. It freed 19 political detainees in February as part of a release of 6,000 prisoners after a visit by a U.N. human rights envoy.

Critics say next year’s elections, the final part of a seven-step “road map” to democracy, will be a sham designed to give legitimacy to the current authorities and entrench nearly half a century of army rule in the former Burma.

In his report to the Security Council, Ban said the Myanmar government needed to deliver on promises to make next year’s elections free and fair, to release prisoners and to start a dialogue with the opposition “in the very near future.”

“The choice for Myanmar’s leaders in the coming days and weeks will be between meeting that responsibility ... or failing their own people and each one of you,” he told the 15 council members.

Most council envoys supported Ban and deplored the Myanmar junta’s refusal to let him see Suu Kyi, who is accused of breaching her house arrest terms by letting an American intruder stay at her lakeside home in Yangon in May.

British envoy Philip Parham said the move demonstrated “the regime’s fear of a free and fair political process.” If there was an “unjust outcome” in Suu Kyi’s trial, “the international community will need to ... respond robustly,” he said.

U.S. envoy Rosemary DiCarlo said Suu Kyi faced “spurious charges of violating a house arrest that was illegitimate to begin with.” French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said that without the prior release of Suu Kyi “any electoral process would be just a parody of democracy.”

But in a strongly pro-Myanmar speech, Chinese envoy Liu Zhenmin said the junta’s refusal to let Ban see Suu Kyi was “totally understandable.” The international community should treat Myanmar with “less arrogance and prejudice,” he said.

Liu said China remained opposed to any sanctions, making clear that Beijing will pursue its policy of blocking any substantive council action on Myanmar through its veto.

Date created : 2009-07-14