UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - More than 100 former presidents and prime ministers from around the world wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urging him to go to Myanmar to press for the release of political prisoners.
In the letter, released by two human rights groups, 112 former leaders encouraged Ban to carry out a plan he has already floated of visiting the country, also known as Burma, before the end of December for his second trip this year.
Such a visit “would illustrate for the world whether or not the Burmese military regime is serious about making changes called for by the United Nations Security Council and your good offices,” the letter said.
It said that since June 2007 the number of political prisoners in Myanmar, which has been ruled for more than four decades by the military, had risen to more than 2,100 from 1,200. The country’s most famous detainee is Nobel peace laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Signatories of the letter included former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and John Major and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The initiative was led by former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. The letter was released by Bondevik’s Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and by Freedom Now.
Ban visited Myanmar in May to secure entry for aid workers after the country was struck by Cyclone Nargis. He has since said he would like to return to discuss political issues.
But diplomats say Ban is reluctant to visit again unless he is assured of a success such as a release of political prisoners, and that there is little sign the Myanmar junta would comply. Dozens more dissidents were jailed last month.
Several visits by a U.N. special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, have produced few results. But Wednesday’s letter said Ban should go anyway.
“We urge you to make it clear that all political prisoners in Burma must be released by the end of this year, regardless of whether you travel to Burma,” it said.
“If the Burmese junta continues to defy the United Nations by refusing to make these releases by the end of the year, we urge you to encourage the Security Council to take further concrete action to implement its call for the release of all political prisoners.”
In October last year, the Security Council issued a statement demanding democratic reforms, including the release of political prisoners. But veto-holding China and Russia have prevented tougher action by the council.
“The Burmese people are counting on the United Nations to take the required action to achieve the breakthrough they desperately need to both restore democracy to their country and address the serious humanitarian and human rights challenges that they face,” the letter said.
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