News / Asia

UN Chief Calls for Burma to Free Political Prisoners

The head of the United Nations has again pressed Burma's military government to release political prisoners to ensure credibility for its elections next month. Ban Ki-moon says the elections are a test for Burma in its progress toward democracy.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that Burma's November 7 elections need to be transparent and credible.

Mr. Ban spoke to journalists in Bangkok at the start of a four country Asia visit.

"I only hope – sincerely hope that this election will be [an] inclusive and transparent and credible one – that is the expectation of the international community," Mr. Ban said. "The more they signal through concrete actions that this is a departure from business as usual, or status quo, toward more openness, [is] better for the credibility of their country in democratization."

Mr. Ban says how much the new parliament includes different segments of society will signal the success of the election in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"It will be even more important after the election how inclusive a government they will form as a result of the election reflecting the wishes and will of the people." He added. "That will be a test of the Myanmar government, how they will be able to meet this expectation of the international community."

The secretary-general appealed to Burma's government to release all political prisoners.

"It is not too late, even now, that by releasing the political detainees, they [Burma's leaders] can make this election more inclusive and participatory," Mr. Ban said.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest and cannot vote in the polls. Her National League for Democracy party was ordered disbanded after it refused to expel her and other members in prison.

The NLD won the last election, 20 years ago, but the military never allowed the party to take office. Instead, most of its leaders were jailed.

Rights activists say Burma still holds more than 2,000 political prisoners.

Many human-rights groups, Burmese exiles and several governments call the elections a sham. The military is guaranteed a quarter of the seats in parliament, and election laws restrict campaigning by opposition candidates.

Mr. Ban is headed to Cambodia. He then goes to Vietnam for a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. After that, he travels to China.

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