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NEWS UPDATES 25 March 2010

UN Security Council considers looking into Myanmar's electoral laws

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The UN Security Council on Wednesday held closed-door talks on Myanmar with Britain and China clashing over whether it was appropriate for the 15-member body to weigh the military-ruled country's electoral affairs, AFP reported.

The consultations, called by Britain following Myanmar's new electoral laws that disqualify detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, marked the first time the council took stock of developments in the country since last August.

They came on the eve of a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends of Myanmar at UN headquarters.

Britain's UN envoy Mark Lyall Grant said many council members voiced concern about Myanmar's new electoral laws "which fall well short of what the international community expected in a free and fair process and fell short of the expectations set up in previous (council) statements."

He noted that the council had repeatedly stressed the importance of releasing all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, establishing a national dialogue and creating the right conditions for reconciliation.

Myanmar's new laws relate to the registration of political parties and bar anyone serving a prison term from being a member of an official party.

But China's new UN Ambassador Li Baodong, whose country maintains close ties with Myanmar, stressed that its neighbour was a sovereign state and that its upcoming general elections, the first to be held in 20 years, were a domestic matter.

He noted that holding elections was not an easy task for a poor country like Myanmar but was "a very important step in the process of national reconciliation, democracy."

"It is very important for the international community and the Security Council to help Myanmar promote a constructive, healthy environment conducive to the coming general election," Li said.

But Lyall Grant disagreed with the notion that the council should not get involved in Myanmar's electoral politics.

"We don't agree with that," he told reporters, pointing out that Myanmar was on the council's agenda.

"We believe these laws set out a process which is not conducive to free and fair elections later this year and in many ways seems designed to target Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD opposition party and to make it very difficult for them to register for the elections," Lyall Grant said.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has yet to announce whether it will take part in the polls, which are expected in October or November although the government has still not set a date.

Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-moon was to chair Thursday's meeting of the Group of friends of Myanmar, which brings together Australia, Britain, China, the European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

The group was set up in December 2007 as a forum for informal discussions and for developing shared approaches to back UN efforts to promote democracy and national reconciliation in Myanmar.

Earlier this month, Ban reiterated his call for "an inclusive political process leading to fair, transparent and credible elections in which all citizens of Myanmar, including Aung San Suu Kyi can freely participate."

The 64-year-old opposition leader has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years since the previous elections.

She was already barred from standing as a candidate under a new constitution approved in a 2008 referendum that stipulates that those married to foreigners are ineligible. Her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999.

The Nobel Peace laureate was sentenced to three years' jail last August over an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside home. The sentence was commuted by junta supremo Than Shwe to 18 months under house arrest.


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UN Security Council considers looking into Myanmar's electoral laws




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