US sceptical on Burma elections

Jan 5, 2010 (AFP), The United States has voiced doubts on whether Burma’s upcoming elections would be credible and urged the military regime to engage the opposition and ethnic minorities.

Burma’s leader Senior General Than Shwe, in a message read out Monday for the nation’s 62nd independence anniversary, urged people to make "correct choices" in the elections which the junta wants to hold sometime in 2010.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States was taking a "measured approach" to elections until it could assess the conditions, including whether the opposition and ethnic groups will participate.

"So far we have not seen any meaningful steps by the regime to indicate it is putting in place measures that would lead to credible elections," Kelly said.

"Much of the opposition’s leadership remains in prison, there is no space for political dissent or debate and no freedom of press," Kelly said.

Kelly called for Burma to engage opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders "in a comprehensive dialogue on democratic reform."

"This would be a first step towards inclusive elections," he said.

The election would be the first since 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the last election by a landslide but was never permitted to take office.

Instead, Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the past two decades under house arrest despite appeals for her release and her winning of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

President Barack Obama’s administration has switched gears on Burma, opening up a dialogue to improve relations with a state that has long been treated as a pariah by the United States.

Burma’s opposition leaders say the elections will be a sham to legitimize military rule and some have voiced fear that the junta sees the dialogue with the United States as a way to bide time before the vote.

Senator Jim Webb, the leading US advocate of engagement of engagement with Burma, said he was "pleased" by Than Shwe’s indication that elections would take place this year.

"I have expressed my view to the Burmese leadership that the United Nations or other international organizations could provide valuable election assistance, and thus enhance the integrity of the process," said Webb, who held a rare meeting with the reclusive Than Shwe in 2009.

"I stand ready to help in all appropriate ways as we work toward the day when the Burmese people can fully rejoin the world community," Webb said.

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