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UN Urges Burma to Free Political Prisoners Before Elections

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Margaret Besheer

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging Burma's military authorities to release all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ahead of November's general elections. His comments come as  Burma's election commission set November 7 as the date for the country's first general elections in 20 years.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky said Mr. Ban had "taken note" of Friday's announcement.

"The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the Myanmar authorities to honor their publicly stated commitments to hold inclusive, free and fair elections in order to advance the prospects of peace, democracy and development for Myanmar," he said.

UN Urges Burma to Free Political Prisoners Before Elections
UN Urges Burma to Free Political Prisoners Before Elections

Monday, Mr. Ban criticized the Burmese military authorities for being slow to announce a date for the vote. He told reporters that he and his Special Advisor Vijay Nambiar had been making every effort to continue to engage with Burma's authorities on the issue of the political process there, including the planned elections, but said there was a frustrating lack of cooperation from them.

"It is a source of frustration, however, that Myanmar has been unresponsive so far to these efforts," said the UN chief.  "A lack of cooperation at this critical moment represents nothing less than a lost opportunity for Myanmar. I am now in the process of preparing my annual report to the General Assembly in which our views at this stage will be further elaborated."

Friday, the secretary-general's spokesman reiterated Mr. Ban's call on the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners ahead of the election. The most high-profile among them is National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under some form of detention for 15 of the last 21 years. Her current detention will not end until after the election in late November. Human rights groups say the timing appears to be a deliberate attempt to keep the Nobel laureate from participating. Election rules say no one who is in prison can be a candidate.

U.N. Spokesman Nesirky said the Secretary-General believes the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all the other political prisoners is essential to the national reconciliation process and Burma's transition to democracy.

Human rights groups say there are more than 2,000 political prisoners in Burma, many of them pro-democracy activists arrested following peaceful demonstrations in 2007.

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