U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for a "fair, transparent and inclusive" vote in Burma, as that country prepares to hold its first elections in 20 years. Mr. Ban also reiterated his call for the release of all political prisoners in Burma, or Myanmar as it is also known - including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mr. Ban spoke to reporters after a meeting of his Group of Friends of Myanmar. The closed door session, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, was the third time the 14 countries have come together at the foreign minister level.
Mr. Ban said the coming month will be "critical" as Burma prepares for the November 7 vote. He said members of the group discussed ways to intensify their efforts to help the government and people achieve a "successful transition toward a credible civilian and democratic government."
"Members of the group expressed their encouragement, concerns and expectations regarding the current processes," said Ban Ki-moon. "They clearly reiterated the need for the election process to be more inclusive, participatory and transparent."
Mr. Ban said that includes the release of all political prisoners - including detained National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Members called for steps to be taken for release of political detainees, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," he said. "This is essential for the election to be seen as credible and to contribute to Myanmar's stability and development."
The Secretary-General also called on Burma's neighbors to use their influence to encourage meaningful engagement.
The United Nations has been unable to send an envoy to meet with Burmese authorities this year. Mr. Ban said he has expressed his "regret" about that, and that he hopes he will have an opportunity to continue his dialogue with Burmese officials when he attends the ASEAN summit in Hanoi next month.
The November vote will elect nearly 500 people to Burma's national parliament and another 664 will be spread among 14 regional legislatures.
Opposition parties say they have not been able to enter as many candidates as they want because of restrictive election laws and high registration fees.
Critics say the elections are a sham and that the military shows little sign of giving up control.