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UN Chief Urges Burma to Release All Political Prisoners

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has again urged Burma's military government to release all political detainees after only a token number of political prisoners were freed during a general amnesty that began Saturday. The U.N. chief also says he is willing to make another visit to that country, which is also known as Myanmar, to discuss political reforms.

Mr. Ban noted that the authorities in Burma have announced they plan to release some 6,000 prisoners under a general amnesty that began on Saturday, but only about 20 are political detainees.

"I would welcome this announcement of amnesty as a first step toward larger and bigger implementation by the Myanmar authorities," he said. "There are still hundreds and hundreds of detainees under political reasons. As I said, I would urge the Myanmar authorities to release all detainees, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi."

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years.

Mr. Ban was speaking to reporters following a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends of Myanmar, which includes Asian nations, the European Union, Norway, India and the permanent five members of the Security Council - China, Britain, France, Russia and the United States.

Last May, the U.N. Secretary-General went to Burma after Cyclone Nargis devastated parts of that country to express his support for the Burmese people. He also met with the country's top official, Senior General Than Shwe. Asked if he would be willing to return there to press the authorities to implement commitments they have made to move the country toward democracy, Mr. Ban said he is willing to go, but nothing has been discussed yet.

"As a matter of principle I am telling you I am willing to make a return visit to build upon what I had discussed last May, including the political issues," he said.

On Friday, Mr. Ban's Special Advisor, Ibrahim Gambari, who has recently returned from Burma, told the Security Council that his latest trip produced "no tangible results." Gambari also briefed the Group of Friends on his mission during Monday's closed-door meeting.

A military government has ruled Burma since 1962. Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party won the last general elections in 1990, but military leaders never recognized the results of that race.