Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi marked the anniversary of her release from years of house arrest by renewing calls for all political prisoners to be freed and for an end to hostilities between government troops and ethnic rebels.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate also told a rare news conference on Monday that her National League for Democracy (NLD) movement had yet to decide whether to re-register as a political party to contest upcoming parliamentary by-elections.
It is very important to release all political prisoners. It's not only those of the NLD, but all who want democracy are desirous of this, Suu Kyi said.
The United States and Europe have long made the release of political prisoners part of their criteria for lifting sanctions. Suu Kyi said on Monday they should remain in place until some reforms had been introduced that benefited the Burmese people.
Suu Kyi , Myanmar's most high-profile former political prisoner, was released from a seven-year stint of house arrest last year and had spent a total of 15 years in detention for her opposition to military rule.
A senior interior ministry official said on Sunday there would be details of another general amnesty within the next few days, which would include the release of political detainees.
About 230 were freed on October 12, a move welcomed by the West as a step towards long-awaited reforms by the civilian government that took office late in March, ending five decades of unbroken military rule in the former British colony.
The NLD said on Monday 591 political prisoners were still in detention, about 200 more than the figure presented by the government. The former junta denied for decades holding any politicians or activists in its jails.
Analysts and diplomats believe the government might release more prisoners this week to coincide with the start of an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.
They say an amnesty at this time could boost President Thein Sein's image among his international peers and strengthen his case for Myanmar taking the rotating ASEAN presidency in 2014, two years ahead of schedule, a bid widely seen as an attempt to legitimise the new political system.
Suu Kyi, however, said reforms for the Burmese public should take precedence over Myanmar's international image and should also come before any lifting of Western sanctions.
It is more important that the people feel the situation is better (domestically) than Myanmar's becoming the ASEAN chair, she added.
Suu Kyi said there were serious concerns about conflicts between the army and ethnic separatists, particularly in Kachin state bordering China, and she was willing to play a part in any peace process, having urged Thein Sein and the rebel groups to agree on a cease-fire.
What everybody is worried about at present is the lack of peace in the country, especially the fighting going on in Kachin State, which is a cause of concern and sorrow for us, she said.
I am always ready to do my bit to bring about peace in the country.
In an open letter sent to Thein Sein in July, Suu Kyi offered to mediate between the government and the rebels, and said national reconciliation was impossible as long as the fighting continued.
Separately on Monday, local sources said at least 10 people were killed and 27 wounded in a bomb blast in Kachin's capital, Myitkyinar, late on Sunday. [ID:nL3E7ME1O7]
Suu Kyi refused to take questions on whether the NLD, which was forcibly disbanded for boycotting last year's election but continued to operate, would contest by-elections under amended laws that no longer prevent those with criminal records from taking part.
The party's leadership would discuss the issue on November 18. A spokesman for the party recently said Suu Kyi might contest one of the vacant parliamentary seats herself.
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould and Paul Tait)