Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a ministerial meeting of southeast Asian nations late Saturday to take a tougher line with fellow member Myanmar in hopes its military junta will free political prisoners and hold fair elections.
Ban said it is in the best interest of the rest of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to lean on Myanmar to free political prisoners, including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The 64-year-old Nobel Peace laureate has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, since leading a pro-democracy uprising that was crushed by Myanmar’s military junta.
ASEAN members generally refrain from criticizing one another, however.
“Our collective interest is to find ways to encourage Myanmar to free Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, start a genuine political dialogue and create conditions conducive to credible elections,” Ban said.
Last week, Myanmar’s ruling junta released at least 25 political detainees as part of an amnesty, but that figure was believed to be only about 1 percent of all political inmates being held. Authorities want the former prisoners to participate in next year’s vote.
Ban called the amnesty “a step in the right direction (that) falls short of expectations” and said next year’s election has to be credible.
“Next year will be critical,” he said. “The first planned election in two decades must be held in an inclusive and credible manner if they are to advance stability, democracy, reconciliation, national development and respect for human rights.”
Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein is scheduled to speak at the U.N. General Assembly’s ministerial meeting on Monday, the highest-ranking junta official to do so in 14 years.
“Myanmar has an opportunity to demonstrate to its people and to the international community its clear commitment to an inclusive political transition,” Ban said. “It is an opportunity Myanmar should not miss.”
“ASEAN countries have an important role to play in this effort — first and foremost to ensure the well-being of the people of Myanmar, but also in the wider interest of peace and security in the region,” he said.
Washington has traditionally been Myanmar’s strongest critic, applying political and economic sanctions against the junta.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday sanctions against Myanmar will continue, but that “engagement versus sanctions is a false choice in our opinion, so going forward we will be employing both of those tools.”
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.