May 2, 2008 / 6:07 PM / 11 years ago

U.N. Security Council urges credible vote in Myanmar

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council urged Myanmar’s government on Friday to ensure a May 10 referendum on an army-drafted constitution is credible by allowing all political actors to participate.

A Myanmar activist from the National League for Democracy holds a flag at a protest demanding the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the democracy of the country, near the Myanmar Embassy in Seoul March 16, 2008. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/Files

The constitution is a key component of a seven-step “road map to democracy” meant to culminate in multiparty elections in 2010 and end nearly five decades of military rule.

The National League for Democracy, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has rejected the charter since it gives the army a quarter of the seats in parliament, control of key ministries and the right to suspend the constitution at will.

Suu Kyi is under house arrest and opposition activists say their efforts to campaign for a “No” vote are being repressed by the government.

The United States has criticized the vote. President George W. Bush said it would not be “free, fair or credible” when he announced new sanctions on Thursday against state-owned companies to put pressure on the junta.

A statement approved unanimously by the Security Council on Friday noted “the commitment by the government of Myanmar to ensure that the referendum process will be free and fair.”

“The Security Council underlines the need for the government of Myanmar to establish the conditions and create an atmosphere conducive to an inclusive and credible process, including the full participation of all political actors and respect for fundamental political freedoms,” it said.

The official policy statement is not legally binding, but because it required the consent of all 15 council members including Myanmar’s powerful ally China, it was sought by the United States and others as an important sign of united pressure by the international community.

The council statement did not include some tougher language that appeared in earlier versions circulated in April that China did not want.

Nevertheless, it angered Myanmar, whose U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Tint Swe, said in a letter to the council that it “delved into matters which ... fall within the domestic domain of my country and we find this highly objectionable.”

He said Myanmar “greatly regrets” the statement, which he blamed on “tremendous pressure exerted by powerful members of the Security Council on other members.”

HOT TOPIC

Myanmar has been a hot topic at the Security Council since the government’s crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations last September, which drew international condemnation.

Friday’s statement said the Council reaffirmed two statements it made last year including one in October that urged the military junta to free all political prisoners and prepare for a “genuine dialogue” with Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest and incommunicado for the past five years, appeared in the official voter list released on Friday, suggesting she would able to cast her ballot, party members and witnesses said.

But it is likely she will be made to vote behind closed doors and in advance to prevent her from appearing in public — a potential flash point.

British Ambassador John Sawers said he was concerned that “conditions for a free and fair process are not yet in place.”

“There are real limits and constraints on people campaigning against the constitution,” he told reporters.

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