EU, ASEAN urge 'credible' elections in Myanmar
The nations of Southeast Asia and the European Union urged Myanmar to ensure forthcoming elections are "credible and transparent", as the EU pressed Yangon to allow a team to visit the country to discuss the polls.
The call came at the end of a one-day ministerial conference in Madrid of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, and the 27-nation EU.
The ministers appealed to Myanmar to make the elections, scheduled by the end of November, "a credible, transparent and inclusive process," they said in a final communique.
"They believed that the early release of those under detention would contribute to making the elections more inclusive and help bring about a peaceful political dialogue," they said in a reference to detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) is boycotting the polls, the first for 20 years, as it would have been forced to oust its iconic leader and recognise the junta's constitution if it had signed up.
The NLD won the last elections in 1990, but the military junta, in power since 1962, refused to recognise those results.
Since then the Nobel Peace prize winner has spent much of the time under house arrest.
A Spanish official earlier said EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton hopes to finalise agreement with Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win late on Wednesday on an "exploratory mission" of the EU to Yangon to discuss the polls.
Ashton will make clear to U Nyan Win that "if the Myanmar authorities want a credible political process they have to respect a minimum standard of democracy," said Jose Eugenio Salarich, in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs at the Spanish foreign ministry.
The junta in Yangon must include "all political parties -- government parties and opposition parties" and also "release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners," he told reporters.
But he warned that the EU mission would be "very complicated, very delicate" with "no guarantees" that it will be able to see opposition leaders.
He said the EU believes in a "policy of engagement" toward Myanmar and not one of isolation, "which is what we've been pursuing for many years and which has led to very few results."
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan admitted that the election "won't be perfect" but would be the start of a process that could lead to real democracy.
"We are not expecting (the election) will satisfy everyone but that it would be the beginning of a process of national reconciliation and will open up new opportunities for engagement," he told a news conference.
The talks between Ashton and U Nyan Win are scheduled on the sidelines of the EU-ASEAN meeting.
The ministers Wednesday also discussed tensions on the Korean peninsula, Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear programme, the Middle East peace process, security issues, climate change and the global economic situation.
"The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to keep markets open, reject protectionism, refrain from raising new barriers to trade and investment," the final communique said.
On Korea, the ministers expressed "deep concern" over rising tensions in the peninsula and called on both sides to exercise restraint.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand and Vietnam.
© 2010 AFP