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Ivan Lewis: Burma needs a general election, not an election of Generals

Monday 29 March 2010 00:00 BST

The message could not have been clearer. On Armed Forces day, as soldiers marched through Naypyidaw, Burma's Senior General Than Shwe set out his vision for "disciplined democracy". A moment that could have been cause for celebration is instead a cause for concern and regret.

There will soon be an election in Burma. But recently announced election laws mean there is no prospect of it being free, fair or inclusive. Aung San Suu Kyi's party are forced to either expel her, or accept that they will be disbanded. Prospective voters have already been warned to vote the "right way". Instead of a general election, there will be an election of Generals. This was why we secured an urgent Security Council meeting this week. We remain determined to keep Burma high on the international agenda. The sheer scale of the monstrous human rights abuses demand nothing less.

There is a choice for Myanmar's military leaders. Currently synonymous with brutal dictatorship and awful abuses of power, they could instead find a place in history for bringing about a transition to lasting stability and security and restoring Burma's international standing. There would also be strong benefits for Burma's neighbours. A genuinely inclusive political settlement would allow refugees to return home and end border instability. The Rohingya, Karen and other persecuted groups have fled in large numbers across Burma's borders. This worrying trend, as well as the growing flow of drugs and human trafficking, could be tackled and eventually reversed.

For these reasons, I am convinced of three things. First, that no one should be selling arms to a country where the military's primary purpose is to oppress and persecute its own people. Second, that we must make clear to Burma's leaders that without the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and full participation of opposition and ethnic groups, elections planned for later this year will not be credible, nor help to solve Burma's many problems.

Finally, that we should resist the temptation to accept the status quo out of frustration at the lack of progress. If Burma's people can retain their optimism for the future, we have no right to turn away or give up hope.

Ivan Lewis is Minister of State at the Foreign Office

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