4th Mar 2021

EU-Asia summit calls for Myanmar prisoner release

  • Ms Suu Kyi has been in and out of house arrest since 1989 (Photo: lewishamdreamer)

European and Asian leaders have called on Myanmar's military junta to release political prisoners ahead of national elections scheduled to take place next month.

The final statement - issued after a two-day summit of 48 leaders in Brussels drew to a close on Tuesday (5 October) - fell short of demanding the immediate release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, however.

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The presence of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the ASEM meeting is seen as adding weight to the declaration but also to the softness of its tone, with Beijing traditionally reluctant to voice opinions on human rights issues in third countries.

The communiqué said leaders urged "the government of Myanmar to take the necessary measures to ensure that these elections [on 7 November] would be free, fair and inclusive, and would mark a step towards a legitimate, constitutional, civilian system of government."

"The timely release of those under detention would contribute to these elections to be more inclusive, participatory and transparent."

Others had called for stronger language. Amnesty International estimates that some 2,200 political prisoners are currently languishing in the country's jails.

"We are pleased with the call for a prisoner release. Essentially we are happy but there was a dilution factor in the statement bearing in mind the summit's attendees," Amnesty executive officer Peter Clarke told this website.

Britain's vice-prime minister Nick Clegg was amongst those hoping for greater action on Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize and Sakharov Prize laureate who has been under house arrest for roughly 14 out of the past 20 years.

Her National League for Democracy party won 59 percent of the national votes and 80 percent of the seats in parliament during the country's 1990 legislative elections, the last to be held since those scheduled for next month. The military-backed National Unity Party won less than 2 percent of the seats.

Mr Clegg, a Liberal, told the leaders gathering in Brussels he was not optimistic regarding the upcoming vote.

"We are now a month away from elections that will do no more than reinstate the military government in civilian clothes - elections that will not be free, nor fair, that will be exploited by a regime responsible for the grave mistreatment of the Burmese people," he said.

"This is a complete disgrace, and we should all be prepared to say so," he added. "All political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, must be released, without delay."

Tuesday's final statement simply says that delegates "touched upon the issue" of Ms Suu Kyi.

The opposition leader is set to complete her latest term of house arrest on 13 November, just days after the scheduled elections.

Earlier on Tuesday Ms Suu Kyi launched a legal battle against the ruling military junta, suing to keep her political party intact after it was disbanded earlier this year under Myanmar's new party registration law, her lawyer said.


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