UNITED NATIONS - Myanmar's military government sought to avoid intervention by the U.N. Security Council with a promise Monday to free some political prisoners and allow them to participate in 2010 elections.
Ambassador U Than Swe did not specify the number of prisoners, however, and during a brief speech to the council he also declined to say whether the promise of amnesty would extend to jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
But he said the nation's ruling generals would agree to U.N. demands that they hold talks with the political opposition and allow credible elections sometime next year.
"At the request of the Secretary-General, the Myanmar government is processing to grant amnesty to prisoners on humanitarian ground and with a view to enabling them to participate in the 2010 general elections," Than Swe said.
Myanmar's government will "implement all appropriate recommendations that (the) secretary-general had proposed," he said. "So, no Security Council action is warranted."
The U.N. and human rights groups estimate there are 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar.
The Myanmar government has granted amnesty to prisoners before, including 19 political detainees in February who were released with 6,000 prisoners after a visit by a U.N. human rights rapporteur.
The occasion for Monday's the council meeting was a briefing by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on his recent two-day visit to Myanmar. During the trip he met twice with junta chief Senior General Than Shwe but failed to win permission to meet the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi in prison.
Testimony wrapped up Friday in Suu Kyi's trial, with her last defence witness arguing she is innocent because the military government charged her under a constitution abolished two decades ago. She is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harbouring an uninvited American man who swam secretly to her lakeside home and stayed for two days.
She faces a possible five-year prison term in a trial that has drawn condemnation from the international community. Suu Kyi's local supporters worry the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her detained through elections planned for next year.
Suu Kyi has been in detention for nearly 14 of the last 20 years, mostly at her Yangon residence.
Ban had ended his visit saying he won no promises that the junta would agree to release Suu Kyi or any other political prisoners, or that it would follow any other U.N. recommendations for democratizing a nation firmly in the military's grip since 1962.
But the U.N. chief told the 15-nation council's members that he went because virtually no other world leader could gain the ruling generals' ears and plant seeds that might lead to democratic reforms later on.
"What is important is is not so much what I came back with, but what I left behind with the authorities," said Ban, who held two rare meetings with Than Shwe and several other generals in Naypyitaw, the nation's new military capital.
Ban told the council that Myanmar's junta must deliver on its promise for free and fair elections - and he noted the promise made moments earlier by Myanmar's U.N. ambassador.
"This is encouraging, but I have to continue to follow up how they will implement all the issues raised during my visit to Myanmar," Ban said. "The world is now watching closely whether they will choose to act in the best interest of their country or not."
But whether that change comes may depend on how much pressure Western governments can exert on Myanmar's Asian trading partners, including China and Singapore.
China's deputy U.N. ambassador, Liu Zhenmin, said Ban's visit produced a positive outcome but said the international community must treat Myanmar with more encouragement and respect.
"It's obvious that the problems faced by Myanmar cannot be totally solved through the Western style," Liu said.