Myanmar urged to meet opponents
Singapore PM says military rulers must take "bolder steps" toward reconciliation.
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2009 09:29 GMT
Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein, centre, is on an official visit to Singapore [Reuters]

Myanmar's military government must take "bolder steps" to promote reconciliation with its political opponents and step up cooperation with the international community, Singapore's prime minister has said.

Lee Hsien Loong was speaking at a dinner to welcome his Myanmar counterpart, General Thein Sein, who is on an official visit to Singapore.

During his address Lee said the global environment was changing and it was time for Myanmar's diplomatically-isolated rulers to engage with the international community.

Nonetheless he said Myanmar remained an "an old friend" of Singapore and said he hoped the relationship would "develop and prosper."

Singapore and Myanmar are both members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a regional body which has been criticised for tolerating human rights abuses by the Myanmar government and not pressing for reform.

Singapore, which is one of the biggest investors in Myanmar, has been a leading voice in opposing sanctions against the country and its rulers.

The city state is also believed to be home to much of the finances held in offshore bank accounts owned by the Myanmar military.

Call for prisoner release

Lee's remarks came as a UN investigator called on Myanmar's ruling generals to release more than 2,100 political prisoners and allow them to take part in an election set for 2010.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, also urged the military to halt its use of civilians in forced labour.

Myanmar's military has ruled the country formerly known as Burma since 1962.

It refused to recognise a landslide victory of the opposition National League for Democracy in national elections held in 1990 and has jailed or detained many of its members including Aung San Suu Kyi, the party leader.

She has been under house arrest for most of the past two decades.

Western governments have criticised the government's plan to hold fresh elections in next year as a sham aimed at entrenching military rule.

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