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December 25, 2008

UN General Assembly:
World body repeats call on Myanmar to release political prisoners

The UN General Assembly on Wednesday strongly condemned widespread human rights violations in Myanmar and called on the government to free political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, reported the Associated Press.

The sharply worded resolution, sponsored by the United States, Israel and many other countries, was approved by a vote of 80-25 with 45 abstentions.

Myanmar accused the assembly of "blatant interference" in its internal political process and said it will not be bound by the resolution. Unlike the more powerful Security Council, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but carry weight because they reflect the views of the 192-member world body.

Myanmar's representative, who was not identified, told the assembly the country had made significant political strides and was now on track for a smooth transition to democracy, with a seven-step political process including multiparty elections in 2010.

But the resolution expressed "grave concern" at the failure to include members of pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi's party and other political parties and some ethnic groups "in a genuine process of transition to democracy."

It said Myanmar's political processes "are not transparent, inclusive, free and fair, and that the procedures established for the drafting of the (country's new) constitution resulted in the de facto exclusion of the opposition from the process."

The General Assembly also expressed grave concern at the government's decision to go ahead with a referendum on the constitution "in an atmosphere of intimidation and without regard to international standards of free and fair elections."

It took note of the government's cooperation with the international community in delivering aid to victims of a devastating May cyclone "despite its initial denial of access, which resulted in widespread suffering and increased the risk of loss of life." The cyclone affected 2.4 million people and left an estimated 130,000 people dead or missing.

Myanmar's military, which has ruled since 1962 when the country was known as Burma, tolerates no dissent and crushed pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks in September 2007. It holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, up sharply from nearly 1,200 before the demonstrations, human rights groups say.

The General Assembly "strongly" called on Myanmar's government "to desist from further politically motivated arrests" and release political prisoners, including Suu Kyi who has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

The General Assembly expressed concern over human rights violations, and of Myanmar's "continuing practice of enforced disappearances, use of violence against peaceful demonstrators, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment."

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