In an apparent bid to ease international outcry over upcoming discredited elections, Burma's military junta has said that detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be released after the November 7 polls.
In addition, long-time junta chief General Than Shwe will not be on the ballot during the country's first elections in two decades, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win told his counterparts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a meeting in Hanoi on Oct. 28, diplomats said.
This is first time the junta said Than Shwe will not participate in the polls, derided as a sham by critics.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest, the current term of which expires on November 13. Her National League for Democracy (NLD), which won by a landslide in the last elections in 1990 but saw its victory annulled, has been disbanded by the junta.
Her final appeal on the arrest will be heard on Friday by Burma's Supreme Court. It is not clear when a verdict will be announced.
The junta's assurances on Aung San Suu Kyi's release and Than Shwe's bowing out of the polls were received with scepticism by the ASEAN leaders."Not a clear-cut commitment"
"We were told that she will have completed her term of imprisonment by the first 10 days, probably, after the elections," ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan told reporters.
"We were told that there will be no more reason to keep her in house arrest. But for that we will have to wait. It was not a clear-cut commitment," he said, according to agency reports.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department slammed the military regime for offering to release Aung San Suu Kyi only after the voting.
"This is a craven manipulation by Burma. How convenient that they are hinting that she might be released after an election that is unlikely to be fair, free, or credible," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.
"Burma knows what it has to do. It has to open up its political space for Aung San Suu Kyi and others to participate fully in the politics of Burma," Crowley said. "It has to release its political prisoners—all of them—and it has to have meaningful dialogue with all elements of Burmese society."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will push ahead for the creation of an international commission to investigate alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Burmese military rulers.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for the release of all political prisoners before the elections, saying "it is not too late" to make the polls more fair and inclusive.Doubts military chief will leave scene
Some leaders of ASEAN, whose 10 member states include Burma, doubted Than Shwe will leave the political scene.
“You know the system they have. He will be elected president, I’m almost sure,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said.
The head of a Burma panel set up by ASEAN parliamentarians called on the Southeast Asian grouping not to recognize the election result.
"The constitution clearly is designed for the military to win in the elections," said Kraisak Choonhavan, president of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar (Burma) Caucus Steering Committee.
In the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, activists campaigning for a boycott of the elections protested outside the Burmese embassy but failed to personally deliver a protest letter to embassy officials, said one activist, Thein Aung.
The U.S. Campaign for Burma (USCB), a leading coalition of Burmese activists in exile and American human rights campaigners are jointly organizing events in a dozen countries as part of a coordinated bid to reject the Burmese elections.
Aung Din, a former political prisoner and executive Director of USCB, said in Washington, "We are sending a clear message to the regime that the international community will not recognize its puppet show.
"We also request President Barack Obama's administration take effective action to stop the regime’s crimes against humanity in Burma, occurring in a culture of impunity,” he said. Reported by Tin Aung Khine for Radio Free Asia's Burmese service. Translated by Nyein Shwe. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai