U.N. envoy wants 'credible' Myanmar democracy roadmap

TOKYO Thu Feb 28, 2008 3:57pm IST

Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, speaks during an interview in Tokyo February 28, 2008. Gambari said on Thursday that he would urge Myanmar's military government to take steps to make its roadmap to democracy ''credible and inclusive'' when he visits the country next week. REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota

Ibrahim Gambari, United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, speaks during an interview in Tokyo February 28, 2008. Gambari said on Thursday that he would urge Myanmar's military government to take steps to make its roadmap to democracy ''credible and inclusive'' when he visits the country next week.

Credit: Reuters/Kiyoshi Ota

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TOKYO (Reuters) - U.N. envoy to Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari said on Thursday that he would urge Myanmar's military government to take steps to make its roadmap to democracy "credible and inclusive" when he visits the country next week.

"We would like to discuss with them how to make this process credible," Gambari told Reuters in an interview.

In a surprise move, the former Burma's ruling generals this month announced a referendum in May on a new constitution, to be followed by a general election in 2010. If held, the poll would be the first since a 1990 election whose outcome the military ignored.

But opposition figures and some Western countries have voiced skepticism whether the junta will be willing to let the opposition compete in the vote or to relinquish power.

"We would like to encourage them to take necessary steps to create the right atmosphere to promote a free and fair outcome which will enjoy support internally and externally," said Gambari, who plans to visit Myanmar in the first week of March.

"We would like to encourage the government to try to make it credible and inclusive. There are many ways in which this can be done."

He said he would urge Myanmar's military junta to free detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners to put the country on the path to democracy.

"Because it will contribute to a positive atmosphere for the referendum and the elections," he said. "Her continued detention will continue to be a problem for the regime, whereas she should be part of the solution in terms of meeting challenges facing the economy."

Suu Kyi would be barred from the 2010 elections because she had been married to a foreigner, violating the newly drafted constitution, Singapore's Straits Times newspaper reported last week.

Myanmar's generals last held elections in 1990, but ignored the result when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent more than 12 of the past 18 years under some form of detention.

Earlier this month, the military, which has ruled the former Burma in various guises since 1962, accused pro-democracy and dissident groups of trying to tear the country apart, and urged the public to back its "roadmap to democracy".

Gambari said he saw no need for the Myanmar government to amend the "roadmap to democracy" immediately.

"I don't think at this stage people are asking for rewriting, but they are looking at some of the provisions that will really make participation more inclusive and the outcome of the referendum much more credible," he said.

The United States says the referendum will be a sham conducted in a "pervasive climate of fear".

The opposition National League for Democracy, which won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power by the military, was excluded from the constitution-drafting process and is expected to push for a "no" vote.

Gambari said it was not clear whether he would be able to meet Senior General Than Shwe and Suu Kyi although he had asked to meet them.

The U.N. envoy also urged Japan to boost its aid to Myanmar.

"We want to encourage Japan to consider increasing the level of assistance," he said. "But all these have to be in parallel with developments on the political front."

Japan suspended some aid for Myanmar after a Japanese video journalist was shot in a bloody crackdown on monk-led pro-democracy demonstrators in September.

Japan has shown more willingness to engage Myanmar than most Western countries and is one of its biggest aid donors.

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