Posted at ABC Radio Australia News on 6 February 2012
A top United Nations envoy has hailed dramatic changes in Burma but says by-elections will be a “key test” of the army-backed regime’s commitment to reform.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, has welcomed a series of reforms implemented since his last visit in August, but says “serious challenges remain”.
He says the by-elections on April 1 will be a key test of how far the government has progressed in its reform process.
“It is therefore essential that they are truly free, fair, inclusive and transparent,” he said.
He says he’s heard the use of international observers was “under consideration” for the poll, which is likely to see opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi swept into parliament.
Last week, Ms Suu Kyi was greeted by tens of thousands of supporters during her first trip outside Rangoon since declaring her intention to contest the polls.
More than 40 delegates from a dozen counties are attending a two day event in Rangoon, run by the Australian group AsiaLink.
It is one of the first major business and academic gatherings since the Asian nation re-opened its borders.
Burma shifted to civilian rule in 2011, and is competing to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from 2014.
Speaking from Burma, AsiaLink’s Jenny McGregor says the event is another positive step for the country.
“The connections that have been made now between the [Burma] team and the ASEAN team and the Australian team, we hope will really blossom and grow into much greater communication and collaboration over the next few years.”