U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that there's still time for Myanmar's military rulers to make upcoming elections more credible by freeing all political prisoners.
"It's not too late, even now," Ban said on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Vietnam. "By releasing all political prisoners, Myanmar authorities could help or pave the way for a national reconciliation."
Ban repeated his warning from a day earlier in an interview with The Associated Press in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, that keeping thousands of political prisoners locked up could destroy the vote's credibility.
Myanmar's military junta has been under increasing pressure to ensure the Nov. 7 elections _ the country's first in two decades _ are free and fair. But many critics have dismissed the vote as a pre-rigged sham.
Human rights groups estimate that more than 2,000 political prisoners remain detained in the secretive state, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been imprisoned or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years. Several countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations have pressed the junta to release her during the meetings this week in Hanoi.
Ban said the period after the elections will be equally crucial.
"It's a chance for the authorities to signal that they are open to real change and that they are ready to depart from an untenable status quo," said Ban, who is to meet with Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein on Saturday on the sidelines of the summit.
Ban said the United Nations stands ready to help Myanmar to move forward peacefully to a new era of democracy and development following five decades of military rule.
"We expect and hope that this election will be credible, inclusive and transparent," he said.
Myanmar's military rulers have enacted laws that prevent Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from contesting the elections. That leaves the key junta-backed party as the only strong contender in the elections.
Myanmar officials have refused to directly confirm whether Suu Kyi will be freed when her house arrest officially expires on Nov. 13, six days after the elections.