Myanmar poll a 'key test' of reform: UN envoy



Myanmar poll a `key test` of reform: UN envoy Yangon: A top United Nations envoy on Sunday hailed dramatic changes in Myanmar but said by-elections would be a "key test" of the Army-backed regime's commitment to reform.

UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, welcomed a "continuing wave of reforms" since his last visit in August, but said "serious challenges remain".

"The upcoming by-elections on 1 April will be a key test of how far the government has progressed in its process of reform," he told reporters at a press conference to outline his preliminary observations.

"It is therefore essential that they are truly free, fair, inclusive and transparent."

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past two decades in detention, is likely to be swept into parliament in the April vote.

The democracy icon's decision to stand in the poll is seen as a key sign of progress in the country, which was dominated by the military for nearly half a century.

A nominally-civilian government came to power last year following controversial November 2010 elections and has surprised observers with a number of positive moves including a major release of political prisoners in January.

Quintana said the country must learn lessons from the 2010 poll, which was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and the absence of Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time.

He said reports of "irregularities" and restrictions on political party campaign activities "should be addressed seriously" ahead of the April by-election.

Last week, Suu Kyi was greeted by tens of thousands of supporters during her first trip outside Yangon since declaring her intention to contest the polls.

The democracy icon's decision to stand in the poll is seen as a key sign of progress in the country, which was dominated by the military for nearly half a century.

A nominally-civilian government came to power last year following controversial November 2010 elections and has surprised observers with a number of positive moves including a major release of political prisoners in January.

Quintana said the country must learn lessons from the 2010 poll, which was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and the absence of Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time.

He said reports of "irregularities" and restrictions on political party campaign activities "should be addressed seriously" ahead of the April by-election.

Last week, Suu Kyi was greeted by tens of thousands of supporters during her first trip outside Yangon since declaring her intention to contest the polls.