UN chief urges regional pressure on Burma

Sept 28, 2009 (DVB), Regional Southeast Asian countries should play a stronger role in pushing Burma along the path to democratic reform, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said last week.

The 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc must "do more in the best interests of Myanmar [Burma] and its people," Ban told the Group of Friends on Myanmar group.

He followed the calls with a statement on Saturday to ASEAN foreign ministers that the chance for political transition at the Burmese elections next year is "an opportunity Myanmar should not miss," adding that ASEAN countries have a key role to play in this.

World leaders gathered in New York last week for the UN General Assembly. Burma's prime minister, Thein Sein, led a 15-member delegation to the talks, the first time in 14 years that a senior Burmese official has visited the United States.

The UN representative for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), Dr Thaung Htun, said that the decision to send Thein Sein was strange given that Burma's foreign ministers usually take care of diplomatic engagement.

"At least we can expect [Thein Sein] to make a response to the UN general secretary's list of suggestions for Burma [or] inform about the progress with the 2010 elections," he said. "Or maybe he will just play the same old record".

Burma's presence at the General Assembly came shortly after the US announced that it would step up engagement with the military junta, following a review of US policy to Burma.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that Washington will now employ a mixture of sanctions and engagement with the regime, following years of an isolationist policy that has reaped seemingly few results.

The Burmese government recently announced an amnesty of around 130 political prisoners, following demands by Ban Ki-moon when he visited Burma in July that all be released as a prerequisite to democratic reform.

"The recent release of a number of political prisoners as part of the larger amnesty announced last week, while a step in the right direction, falls short of expectations," he said.

"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."

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat and Francis Wade

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