Ex-presidents, premiers urge UN chief to intervene in Myanmar


More than 100 former government leaders wrote to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday asking him to travel to military-ruled Myanmar to secure the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

The prominent figures behind the letter include ex-US presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-Australian premier John Howard, former French prime minister Lionel Jospin, former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and ex-Philippine leaders Fidel Ramos and Corazon Aquino.

“This is an unprecedented outpouring of global support for the people of Burma (Myanmar), and I am pleased that so many have joined me in spotlighting this important issue,” said Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Norwegian Prime Minister.

“Today we unite to call on the United Nations to take action — the first step towards achieving national reconciliation in Burma is creating a firm deadline for the release of all political prisoners,” said Bondevik, now president of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, which together with US-based rights group Freedom Now led the initiative.

The former leaders from more than 50 nations urged Ban to personally travel to Myanmar before the end of the year to secure the release of the military junta’s 2,100 political prisoners.

“This is a historic letter from leaders representing every continent and asking the UN chief to personally intervene,” Freedom Now’s president Jared Genser told AFP.

Last month, more than 100 activists, including members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and relief workers, journalists, monks and lawyers, were each given harsh sentences of up to 68 years in prison.

Their jailing came in the wake of a crackdown on those involved in protests in mid-2007 that were brutally crushed by the military government.

The letter by the former world leaders recalled that the UN Security Council had on October 11 last year issued a presidential statement urging the early release of all political prisoners in Myanmar.

The United Nations also had set the release of all political prisoners as one of its benchmark goals for 2008.

However, in direct defiance of these demands, the military junta has instead increased the number of political prisoners from 1,200 in June 2007 to over 2,100, the letter stated.

“The Burmese people are counting on the United Nations to take the required action to achieve the breakthrough they desperately need to both restore democracy to their country and address the serious humanitarian and human rights challenges that they face,” it said.

It further urged Ban to encourage the Security Council to take “concrete action” if these efforts are not successful by the end of December 2008.

Ban’s special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has made four visits to Myanmar since a bloody uprising a year ago but failed to revive a dialogue between detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta.

Ministers from permanent Security Council member states Britain, the United States, France, Russia and China as well as other countries including Myanmar’s ASEAN neighbors Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam met at the sidelines of the UN summit in September and called on the junta to make “tangible” progress on political reforms ahead of any visit by Ban before year-end.

Ban had made a lightning visit to Myanmar in May after the military rulers came under international fire for not allowing foreign aid into the country following a cyclone that left 138,000 people dead or missing.

The junta relented at the end after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said it would act as an aid channel.


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