UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses a meeting on sustainable development at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 29. Guterres on Friday said he hopes Sunday's election opens a way for the return of Myanmar's Rohingya refugees. (Supplied/UN via AFP)

UN chief hopes Myanmar election will allow refugees to return in ‘dignity’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday expressed hope that weekend elections in Myanmar would allow for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees “in safety and dignity.”

In a statement from his office, he said he also hoped that the polls would help “advance inclusive sustainable development, humanitarian action, human rights and democratic reforms.”

Guterres “renews his appeal for a ceasefire across the country to allow all to focus on combatting the Covid-19 pandemic,” the statement said.

The UN chief “remains concerned about armed conflict in many areas of Myanmar, especially the intensifying clashes in Rakhine and Chin states,” he said.

Myanmar’s civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is widely expected to be returned to power in the November 8 polls – only the second election since the nation emerged from outright military rule.

The Rohingya crisis – where hundreds of thousands of people fled across the border into squalid refugee camps to escape military-backed violence – might have shattered Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation in the West, but she remains a hero for many at home.

Her defense of the nation against genocide charges at the UN’s top court last December consolidated support, particularly among the dominant ethnic Bamar.

Virtually all the 600,000 Rohingya Muslims remaining in the country are stripped of citizenship and will not be able to vote.

Further mass cancellations of the election in swathes of ethnic minority areas – ostensibly for security concerns – mean a total of nearly two million are disenfranchised in a country with an electorate of some 37 million.

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