ASEAN calls for Burma prisoner release

July 21, 2009 (DVB), A meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations yesterday urged the release of prisoners in Burma as a prerequisite to "free, fair and inclusive" elections next year.

Foreign ministers spoke yesterday on the second day of the two-day ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting, prior to the start of the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AAM) beginning today in Thailand.

A joint communiqué released by Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya acknowledged the visit to Burma earlier this month by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

The statement reiterated ASEAN's calls "to immediately release all those under detention, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi" in order to create "genuine reconciliation and meaningful dialogue involving all parties concerned".

The Burmese foreign minister told the UN Security Council earlier this month that the government was setting in motion plans to release some political prisoners so that they can "participate" in the 2010 elections.

Critics have said however that the move is aimed at easing mounting international pressure on the regime, and perhaps to avoid the threat of Security Council action.

The controversial elections in Burma next year must be "free, fair and inclusive, thereby laying down a good foundation for future social and economic development," the statement continued.

It also addressed the issue of ASEAN's much-criticised policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Burma, preferring instead to "constructively engage" with the junta.

Thai prime minster Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday reiterated his anti-sanctions stance on Burma, following comments made to Ban Ki-moon earlier this month that Western sanctions were "not useful".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Thailand today to meet with Mr Vejjajiva.

Tomorrow she will take part in the ASEAN Regional Forum, which will also be attended by China, which has on a number of occasions defended Burma against US-led Security Council pressure.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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