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Myanmar Accused of Stripping Minority Candidates' Rights

The United States said Thursday that it was concerned about Myanmar's disqualification of dozens of candidates who tried to register for the country's upcoming general election.

State Department spokesman John Kirby issued a statement saying the U.S. was aware of reports that almost all Muslim candidates had been rejected.

"The relevant authorities have yet to provide the specific reasons for which they did not meet these criteria" for bring a candidate," Kirby said.

"The move to disqualify some 100 candidates, through an opaque and discriminatory process, risks undermining the confidence of the Burmese people and the international community in these elections," he added.

The comments came one day after a group of nine Western embassies, including the U.S. mission in Yangon, jointly called for the vote in November to be credible, transparent and inclusive.

Election officials in Myanmar said they could not release the final list of candidates for the general election because at least 88 rejected candidates were appealing the rulings against them.

All from opposition

All of the rejected candidates are independents or come from opposition parties. Many, including 17 of the 18 candidates submitted by the Rohingya-led Democracy and Human Rights party, are Muslim candidates in Rakhine state.

A Rohingya member of parliament who was disqualified for running for re-election appeared late Wednesday at a U.S. congressional hearing.

Shwe Maung told VOA's Burmese service that Myanmar was stripping Muslims and other minorities of their rights in the democratic process.

“Including me, my colleagues, Rohingya candidates and all Muslims are rejected to contest in the election," he said. "Since we all, the whole group, lost our chance to contest the election as over 1 million people from our state are not allowed to vote, too, the international community [should be] concerned whether the elections would be free and fair."

The Myanmar government has not yet responded to the allegations but has said it intends to hold free and fair elections.

U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who is a member of the House's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, told VOA's Burmese service that he knew the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, would continue to push for a free and fair election.

"We think that all ethnic groups within Burma need to be enfranchised and a part of the governing of the people of Burma, Myanmar," he said. "And we will continue to encourage our government and our officials in Burma, Myanmar, to continue to talk to the officials there about that need."

Suu Kyi urges monitoring

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the main opposition National League for Democracy, or NLD, has called for vigorous international monitoring of the November general elections.

Her party won 43 seats in parliamentary by-elections in 2012. The last time the NLD took part in a general election was in 1990, when it scored a landslide victory that was ignored by the country's military rulers.

The polls will be the first general election since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011. But, with the military still firmly in control of the process, there is widespread speculation about whether the election will be free and fair.

Three years ago, riots erupted between the Rohingya and the Buddhist majority in Rakhine. More than 200 people were killed and tens of thousands of people were displaced during months of ethnic and sectarian violence, until security forces moved in and imposed tight controls.

Most of the Rohingya lack citizenship in Myanmar, which says they must be willing to call themselves Bengali before their official status can be resolved.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.

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