Myanmar invites international election observers
(YANGON) - Myanmar has invited election observers from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations for its closely watched by-elections next month, a government official said Wednesday.
They would join about two dozen poll observers being sent by Myanmar's regional neighbours belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"It will be like a joint team with ASEAN, the EU, the US and the UN," the Myanmar official, who did not want to be named, told AFP.
"It will be up to the countries whether they send people from overseas or inside Myanmar," he said, without specifying how many observers would be allowed for the April 1 polls.
The vote, which will see Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi stand for a seat in parliament for the first time, is viewed as a key test of the government's reform credentials a year after the end of outright military rule.
The US embassy in Yangon welcomed the move to allow international scrutiny of the polls.
"This is encouraging to see that they have taken this step. Clearly we feel the elections are important for this country's reform process," said embassy spokesman Mike Quinlan.
But he said reports of irregularities in the voting process and cases of alleged intimidation also needed to be addressed.
"Having observers is one step, but to have a free and fair election there really should be no violence and intimidation as well," he said.
There was no official reaction from the European Union, but an EU official in Bangkok who did not want to be named said that at least six months' preparations were usually needed for an observation mission.
A 2010 election in Myanmar which swept the army's political allies to power was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and intimidation.
Foreign election observers and international media were not allowed into the country for that vote, which was denounced by Suu Kyi's opposition party and Western powers as a sham.
Suu Kyi's party cannot threaten the ruling party's majority even with a strong result in next month's vote to fill 48 parliamentary seats.
But experts believe the regime wants the pro-democracy leader to win a seat in the April polls to give its reform drive legitimacy and encourage the West to ease sanctions.
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