Still time for inclusive election in Burma, says Ban – The Irrawaddy

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UNSG urges inclusive elections as Thai PM says Burmese refugees will not be sent home until their safety in Burma can be assured.

BANGKOK – United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki Moon has made a last-ditch plea for an “inclusive, transparent and credible” November 7 election in Burma, saying that “it is not too late, even now, to make this election more inclusive”.

The Secretary-General made no mention of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, nor did he remark upon UN Human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana’s recommendation that a Commission of Inquiry be set up to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity inside Burma.

“It will be perhaps more important after the election, to how inclusive the Government is”, said Ban, who will have a bilateral meeting with junta Prime Minister Thein Sein when both men are in Hanoi for the 17th ASEAN summit this coming weekend.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva said that there are no plans to repatriate Burmese refugees or intellectuals after the election, but added that he discussed the issue of Burmese citizens in Thailand during his recent visit to Burma, where he met with military dictator Senior General Than Shwe. Abhisit and Ban gave a joint press conference at Thailand’s Government House earlier today.

“I said to the Myanmar Government that both sides should cooperate to see how the lives for these people could be improved”,  Abhisit said, referring to his meetings in Naypidaw. He added that he raised the issue of Thailand’s Nationality Verification process for migrant workers with Prime Minister Thein Sein, saying that bilateral co-operation was necessary to implement the policy effectively.

Andy Hall, consultant to the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), told The Irrawaddy that “it is a positive development that the two Governments are getting together to discuss these issues”. Thai officials have been accused of complicity in the trafficking of Burmese migrants near the Ranong border area, Abhisit has “asked to police to take further action” to investigate these allegations, he told reporters earlier today.

Abhisit did not mention the upcoming election in Burma during his remarks to media today, where he gave a brief summary of the meeting with the UN Secretary-General. According to Abhisit, the meeting focused on UN-ASEAN cooperation, Thailand’s role as current President of the UN Human Rights Council, and Thailand’s contribution to the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The UN Secretary-General said that Thai politics are an internal matter, and gave his backing to the reconciliation plan devised by the Thai Government. During the culmination of the red shirt protests in May, Ban exhorted a peaceful solution to the stand-off, which resulted in over 90 deaths and 2000 injuries.

The event was carefully stage-managed, with journalists asked to submit questions in writing in advance, before being approved to address the PM and Secretary-General. Police security was tight, preventing media from speaking to Ban at the central Bangkok hotel where he made a brief stopover en route from the international airport to the meeting with the PM.

After meeting with PM Abhisit and addressing the media at Government House, Ban proceeded to Bangkok’s United Nations compound, where he was greeted by a group of 500 red shirt protestors, who gathered in defiance of an emergency decree in place in Bangkok, which prohibits gatherings of more than five people. Earlier, Thailand’s new army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha warned protestors not to gather in public, arguing that this would embarrass Thailand internationally.

Outside the UN building, a small group of anti-junta protestors held placards denouncing the upcoming election, and castigated the UN for perceived inaction in Burma. Khin Ohmar of the Burma Partnership told The Irrawaddy that the Secretary-General’s words come too late to have any impact on the election, which seems certain to be dominated by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), with foreign media and observers barred from entering the country. “These are just the same soft words that have been spoken many times before”, she said. “The regime sees that these words mean nothing, as no action is ever taken.”

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