Key nations call on Myanmar to release Suu Kyi

Other News Materials 28 September 2008 05:11 (UTC +04:00)

Nations concerned about Myanmar called on its military government Saturday to release all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and to start talking with the opposition, AP reported.

The so-called Group of Friends, which includes the United States, Britain, China, Southeast Asian countries and the European Union, also called on the junta to cooperate with the United Nations, which has tried with little success to nudge the regime toward engagement with its opponents. The nations met at the United Nations on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly's ministerial session.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the meeting, said in a statement afterward that it "is a clear signal of the importance that the international community attaches to the situation in Myanmar."

The Security Council and Ban had hoped Myanmar's ruling generals would respond to international pressure to embrace national reconciliation following its violent suppression of massive, anti-government protests in Yangon last year, but so far they have not.

The Security Council has demanded that the military regime release all political prisoners, talk with the opposition, open the political process and end human rights abuses.

Ban and his special U.N. envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, have actively pursued talks with leaders of Myanmar's government.

"The people have not been forgotten by the international community," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said. He said, "The truth is the regime holds onto their power jealously and guards the power that they have."

Friday marked the first anniversary of the military junta's brutal crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks. The U.N. estimated at least 31 people were killed when the army fired on peaceful protesters Sept. 26-27, sparking global outrage.

Suu Kyi has spent more than 12 of the past 19 years in detention, mostly under house arrest. In 1990, her party won a landslide victory that the junta refused to acknowledge. Instead, the regime stepped up arrests and repression of dissidents.

Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo, who is also the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said the U.N.'s critical role in helping the Myanmar people after Cyclone Nargis was a positive sign.

"In that cooperation there is hope," he said. "And some progress is better than no progress."

Little progress was made in releasing prisoners and promoting dialogue between the government and Suu Kyi when the U.N.'s Gambari visited Myanmar from Aug. 18-23.

"The key is to continue to strengthen Gambari's role and to push the U.N. agenda," Yeo said.

He said that Ban will be going back to Myanmar at the end of the year.

On Tuesday, Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner, Win-Tin, was among more than 9,000 inmates freed, days before the first anniversary of the junta's deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

But analysts suspect the junta timed the release as an attempt to fend off international criticism on the anniversary.