World News

U.N.'s Ban urged to help free Myanmar prisoners

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his envoy to Myanmar have received a petition from over 670,000 people worldwide urging them to press Myanmar’s military junta to release all political prisoners.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to a reporter after arriving in Vantas, Finland May 25, 2009. REUTERS/Lehtikuva/Sari Gustafsson

The petition calls on Ban and his special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic opposition in the country formerly known as Burma, and other political prisoners.

Suu Kyi is currently on trial for allegedly violating the terms of her imprisonment.

U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas confirmed on Tuesday that Gambari had received the petition.

“The release of all political prisoners is the first and most important step toward freedom and democracy in Burma,” the petition says. “We, the undersigned, call upon U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to make it his personal priority to secure the release of all of Burma’s political prisoners.”

More than 670,000 signatures were collected in some 220 countries and territories, said the petition organizers, who include former political prisoners and human rights activists.

Among the Burmese activists behind the petition are Khin Ohmar, vice chairwoman of the Burmese Women’s Union, and former political prisoners Tate Naing and Aung Din.

Myanmar is holding 2,100 political prisoners and since October more than 350 prisoners have been given jail sentences of up to 104 years, according to a statement issued by the Czech Republic, which has helped publicize the petition.

Among the world figures who signed the petition is former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who spent many years in prison due to his activities as an anti-communist dissident.

The trial of Suu Kyi and of American John Yettaw, whose uninvited visit to her home last month was deemed a breach of her house arrest, is set to resume on June 26. Suu Kyi faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Ban is considering a visit to Myanmar next month to personally urge the junta generals to keep their promises to democratize.

Editing by Eric Beech