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6 August 2009

UN chief expects Myanmar junta to free Suu Kyi

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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon won support Wednesday from key nations for his appeal to Myanmar's government to free detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and release all political prisoners, reported the Associated Press.

The UN chief told reporters after chairing a closed-door meeting of the Group of Friends on Myanmar that he was pleased at their support which he said confirmed the international community's desire for Myanmar to respond positively "to our concerns, expectations and encouragements."

The Group of Friends includes about 15 countries - Myanmar's neighbors, interested Asian and European nations, and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, the US, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Ban said he told the group that he reiterated to Myanmar's U.N. ambassador on July 31 his expectation and that of the international community that careful consideration be given to the implications of the verdict in Suu Kyi's trial, which could come on August 11, and to "use this opportunity to exercise its responsibility to ensure her immediate release."

Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest when an American intruder swam across a lake and spent two nights at her home in early May. She faces up to five years in prison and is widely expected to be convicted. She has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, since leading a pro-democracy uprising that was crushed by Myanmar's military junta.

The secretary-general, who visited Myanmar in July, said he also reiterated the international community's "high expectations" that the government act by taking timely steps to follow-up on the specific proposals he made to senior leaders "starting with the release (of) all political prisoners so that they could participate in a credible and inclusive political process."

"I expect that the authorities of Myanmar will respond positively and in a timely manner to the expectations and concerns and repeated calls of the international community to release all political prisoners, and particularly Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," Ban said.

During his visit, the secretary-general tried unsuccessfully to meet Suu Kyi but he said what was more important was the message he left with the country's leaders.

Soon after Ban returned to New York, Myanmar's UN Ambassador U Than Swe promised the Security Council that the government will free some political prisoners and allow them to participate in 2010 elections, but he gave no numbers.

The secretary-general said he had no firm indication either. "I hope they will take necessary measures to implement their commitment," he said.

When a reporter noted that he appeared more optimistic about a positive response from the government than he was last week, Ban said: "I am working very hard to, first of all, mobilise the necessary political support for the democratization of Myanmar."

"I am representing the will and expectations of the whole international community, particularly the members of the Group (of Friends) of Myanmar to convey (this message) correctly to the Myanmar authorities so that they can respond positively," he said. "This is what I am expecting."

He said participants at the meeting agreed that the Group of Friends would meet again on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting of the UN General Assembly which begins September 23.


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