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APNewsBreak: Myanmar invites US election monitors
APNewsBreak: Myanmar to allow US, EU election observers to monitor April vote
By The Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) ' Myanmar has invited the U.S. and European Union to send observers to monitor April elections, an American official said Wednesday, a first for the long-isolated country seeking to convince the West to lift crippling sanctions.

Myanmar's government has not yet announced the historic news of allowing international monitors into the country, but word has leaked out from around the world.

The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations said in a statement Tuesday that Myanmar had invited the regional bloc to send a five-member delegation along with more than two dozen parliamentarians and media representatives.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy said the invitation had also been extended to Washington and the European Union, which are dialogue partners of ASEAN.

"We are encouraged that the authorities have invited international representatives as observers, including from ASEAN, the EU and the United States," embassy spokeswoman Adrienne Nutzman told The Associated Press.

Nutzman declined to give details of how many American monitors would be allowed and if the U.S. had accepted the invitation, deferring further comment to Washington.

After nearly half a century of iron-fisted military rule in Myanmar, a nominally civilian government took office last March. The new government has surprised even some of the country's toughest critics by releasing hundreds of political prisoners, increasing media freedoms and allowing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and longtime political prisoner, to run for a seat in Parliament.

The April by-election is being held to fill 48 parliamentary seats vacated by lawmakers who were appointed to the Cabinet and other posts. Suu Kyi is seeking one of the seats.

The U.S., EU and the United Nations have called the polls "a key test" of the government's commitment to reforms.

American officials have singled out the April polls as a measure of whether the West will lift sanctions imposed on Myanmar during the military junta's rule.

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