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India, China Urged to Pressure Burma to Release Lawmakers


The Inter-Parliamentary Union is calling for India and China to apply pressure on the Burmese government to release 26 imprisoned parliamentarians. The Inter-Parliamentary Union says India and China should follow the example of Venezuela and Brazil, which recently helped gain the release of two hostages held by rebels in Colombia. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union says it is delighted with the recent release of two Colombian hostages kidnapped by the FARC guerrilla group.

Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo, a member of the Colombian National Congress, was kidnapped in 2001 and Clara Rojas, assistant to former senator Ingrid Betancourt, was kidnapped in 2002 along with Betancourt.

But IPU Human Rights Committee chairwoman, Canadian Senator Sharon Carstairs, notes that five other parliamentarians along with hundreds of other people are still being held by the guerillas.

She says she hopes the same kind of good offices used by Venezuela and Brazil to obtain the freedom of the two hostages will result in the release of others. She says engagement by other governments is needed to achieve similar results in countries where parliamentarian rights are being violated.

"That is why we would put in a plea to both India and China to become more engaged and more involved in Myanmar," said Carstairs. "Now Myanmar has 13 parliamentarians who are still serving sentences for participation in the 1990 election. An additional 13 parliamentarians were arrested during the crackdown in the fall of 2007 and are still in custody. An additional six have died in custody and two were assassinated."

Carstairs says India, China and to some extent Thailand, who are major trading partners with Myanmar, are in a strong position to exert pressure on that country's military government to release imprisoned parliamentarians.

Philippines Senator Aquilino Pimentel says ASEAN countries also are in a position to help. He says there is a growing clamor among ASEAN members to pressure Burma to ease up on the repression suffered by their people.

"I would like to mention that our President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, our Foreign Minister, Alberto Romulo and the Indonesian members of the IPU particularly have strongly come out for a more effective sanction against the ruling junta in Myanmar unless they go back to the roadmap of democracy that should include all the key players for democratization in Burma including Aung San Suu Kyi," said Pimentel.

The parliamentarian group notes it has no legal power to force the Burmese government to release the imprisoned members of parliament. It only has moral authority. That is why, they say, it is essential that countries such as India and China use their power to persuade Burma to change its course.

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