EU observers of Myanmar election allowed to access military areas

Recruits practise during a training session for the upcomign general election in Mandalay, Myanmar, Oct 20, 2015.
Recruits practise during a training session for the upcomign general election in Mandalay, Myanmar, Oct 20, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

YANGON (Reuters) - Observers from the European Union will be allowed to access polling stations on military installations during Myanmar's election next month, barring concerns over national security, the group's chief observer said on Tuesday (Oct 20).

Access for international observers to military bases is a key step in insuring the transparency of the poll, touted as the first free and fair vote in 25 years.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the EU's chief observer, said that he was given assurances of access following discussions with armed forces Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing in the capital, Naypyidaw.

"In the meeting with the commander-in-chief, he agreed that our European Union teams would have access to military installations to observe voting there, if there aren't national security considerations that are so serious enough as not to allow that," he said.

"We will continue to work on the modalities of this, but I'm very happy that we could ascertain this instruction."

The last nationwide vote in 2010 was widely believed to be rigged in favour of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and was boycotted by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

Many of the irregularities came from votes cast on military compounds across the country.

The NLD won the 1990 vote in a landslide, but the results were never recognised by the ruling junta.

The EU will have 30 long-term observers to cover the Nov 8 election in addition to 62 short-term observers deployed across the country. The United States-based Carter Center will also observe.

Myanmar's military stepped back from direct rule of the country after 49 years in 2011, when President Thein Sein took power, but retains a powerful position within the political arena.

A quarter of seats in parliament are reserved for unelected active military officers who are appointed by the commander-in-chief.

Myanmar's government and eight armed ethnic groups signed a ceasefire last week, but the military remains at war with a number of groups.

On Tuesday, state-owned media reported that the military had clashed with the Shan State Army-North 37 times during October.

The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that seven SSA-N troops had been killed and the Myanmar military had suffered an "unspecified number of casualties".