Region: World leaders voice concerns on Myanmar
By Grant Peck
BANGKOK: President Bush and other world leaders urged Myanmar’s ruling generals to release Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and end a crackdown on her pro-democracy party that threatens the country’s political reconciliation process. The immediate worry Tuesday was over the whereabouts and condition of Suu Kyi, who was taken into what the military government called “protective custody” after bloodshed between her supporters and government backers on Friday night.
Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win told diplomats at a closed-door briefing that Suu Kyi had been taken to a secure place.
The government also closed offices of Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party, and shut universities in an apparent attempt to prevent campus protests. Bush said in a statement issued by the White House Monday that he was “deeply concerned.”
“The military authorities should release Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters immediately, and permit her party headquarters to reopen,” Bush said. “We have urged Burmese officials to release all political prisoners and to offer their people a better way of life, a life offering freedom and economic progress.”
Calls for Suu Kyi’s release also flooded in from the European Union, Britain, Australia and Japan. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanded that Suu Kyi be immediately released and “allowed to play a role” in the country’s reconciliation process. The junta’s crackdown has turned back the clock on that effort to reconcile the opposition and the generals, who in 1990 barred Suu Kyi’s party from taking power after it won elections.
It also means international aid - shut off since the junta took power in 1988 by violently suppressing pro-democracy protests - won’t flow any time soon to the impoverished nation, which is also known as Burma. Even those in Asia who have advocated encouraging the junta to allow reform rather than forcing it appeared worried. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Monday “the whole world” is concerned about Suu Kyi’s detention, and called on the junta to bring the situation “back to normal.”
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Tuesday that a democratic solution is needed. “A democratic solution, a solution through dialogue, is needed. I don’t think the current situation is good. We urge a solution through dialogue,” he told a news conference.
Myanamar authorities said UN special envoy Razali Ismail, who previously has brokered talks between Suu Kyi and the ruling junta, is “free to come” for a planned visit, according to diplomats. But authorities could not “give assurances” that Razali would be allowed to meet with Suu Kyi, the diplomats said.
Razali has backed “constructive engagement” with the generals to promote reform, and in late 2001 the envoy brokered closed-door talks between the government and Suu Kyi. That led to Suu Kyi’s release in May 2002 from 19 months under house arrest.
Several hundred political prisoners were freed. Suu Kyi - who was also under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 - was allowed freedom of movement previously denied to her. But the process came to standstill last year.
The generals claim Suu Kyi’s supporters instigated Friday’s fracas in the north in which at least four people were killed. But exile opposition groups maintain Suu Kyi’s motorcade was ambushed by government-backed thugs and the military. A Washington-based exile group linked to the National League for Democracy said Monday that more than 70 people were killed in the initial fight Friday night and a protest the next day.
The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma also said that according to its information Suu Kyi had suffered a serious head injury in the confrontation. A spokesman for the group - which calls itself a government in exile - told The Associated Press the information came from multiple sources inside Myanmar that have been reliable in the past. —AP
Junta says Suu Kyi safe, crackdown only temporary
YANGON: The measures taken against Myanmar’s democratic opposition in recent days are temporary and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi is safe and well, the military regime told diplomats in a briefing on Tuesday.
Sources close to the junta say Aung San Suu Kyi is being held at a government “guest house” in Yangon since being arrested in northern Myanmar after clashes between her supporters and a pro-junta group Friday left four dead.
Myanmar’s Thailand-based government-in-exile said it had learned that Aung San Suu Kyi suffered a serious head injury in the melee and that up to 70 people had been killed, but Deputy Minister Khin Maung Win rejected the report.
“They said she’s perfectly fine and that all the reports about her being injured are false,” a diplomat who attended the ministry briefing told AFP. “But there’s no way we could just accept that she’s perfectly fine because we just don’t know — nobody is getting to her.”
As part of the crack-down rolled out over the weekend, the eight members of the NLD’s leadership committee have also been taken into detention and the party’s offices have been closed nationwide. Universities that were supposed to open for the beginning of a new semester Monday have been slammed shut. “The government says the offices were closed down temporarily because if they were open they may give rise to further clashes, which they don’t want,” the diplomat said.
“They emphasised these measures are temporary in nature but when asked what temporary means we got no response.” —AFP