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The UN Security Council on Wednesday held closed-door talks on Burma, with Britain and China clashing over whether it was appropriate for the 15-member body to meddle in the military-ruled country’s electoral affairs.
The consultations, called by Britain following Burma’s new electoral laws that disqualify detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, marked the first time the council took stock of developments in the country since last August.
They came on the eve of a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends of Burma at UN headquarters.
China’s new UN Ambassador, Li Baodong, whose country maintains close ties with Burma, stressed that its neighbour was a sovereign state and that its upcoming general elections, the first to be held in 20 years, were a domestic matter.
He noted that holding elections was not an easy task for a poor country like Burma but was “a very important step in the process of national reconciliation, democracy.”
“It is very important for the international community and the Security Council to help Burma promote a constructive, healthy environment conducive to the coming general election,” Li said.
But his British counterpart Mark Lyall Grant disagreed with the notion that the council should not meddle in Burma’s electoral politics.
“We don’t agree with that,” he told reporters, pointing out that Burma was on the council’s agenda.
“We believe these laws set out a process which is not conducive to free and fair elections later this year and in many ways seems designed to target Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD opposition party and to make it very difficult for them to register for the elections,” Lyall Grant said.
The British envoy said many council members voiced concern about Burma’s new electoral laws “which fall well short of what the international community expected in a free and fair process and fell short of the expectations set up in previous (council) statements.”
He noted that the council had repeatedly stressed the importance of releasing all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, establishing a national dialogue and creating the right conditions for reconciliation.
Burma’s new laws relate to the registration of political parties and bar anyone serving a prison term from being a member of an official party.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has yet to announce whether it will take part in the polls, which are expected in October or November although the government has still not set a date.