UN chief takes credit for prisoner amnesty

Sept 23, 2009 (DVB), The recent release of more than 120 political prisoners in Burma was down to diplomatic negotiations between the ruling junta and United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief said yesterday.

Fending off allegations that he has taken a soft approach to pariah regimes since he arrived in office in early 2007, Ban Ki-moon said that he had made "a great impact" on the ruling junta in Burma.

"The Myanmar [Burma] authorities have made it quite clear that they were granting amnesty at the request of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon," he said.

The UN chief failed to secure the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit to Burma in July after having twice been denied a meeting with her.

The interviewer had previously quoted Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director Ken Roth, who said that Ban Ki-moon was "so eager to meet with tyrants that you give up all leverage and get nothing in return."

Critics of the ruling junta have said that the release of all political prisoners is a necessary prerequisite for free and fair elections next year.

Ban Ki-moon said he would continue to seek her release and the release of all 2,200 political prisoners in Burma "so that this election can be credible and fair and transparent".

World leaders are meeting this week at the UN General Assembly in New York, where Burmese prime minister Thein Sein will lead a 15-member delegation from Burma.

It will be the first time a senior Burmese government official has visited the United States in 14 years.

The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) announced the release of 7,114 prisoners on the 18 September, a day after a HRW report stated that political prisoner numbers in Burma had doubled since the September 2007 monk-led uprising.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners , Burma (AAPP), 128 political prisoners are included in the amnesty.

Senior National League for Democracy (NLD) member Win Tin said however that the amnesty was an attempt by the junta to deflect growing international criticism and make "bad things appear good".

Reporting by Francis Wade

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