Myanmar: Political apathy sees Aung San Suu Kyi spending another birthday under house arrest Print E-mail
 London ~~ Tuesday June 19 2007

The Big Question: Why is Aung San Suu Kyi still under arrest, and is there any hope of release?

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent

Why are we asking this now?
Today marks the 62nd birthday of the pro-democracy leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman who has spent much of the last two decades either imprisoned or living under house arrest at the command of one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

Today she will have spent a total of 11 years and 238 days (4,253 days) in detention. She lives in isolation in a peeling lakeside villa on Rangoon's University Avenue, and visits to her are strictly controlled. Her phone line has been cut and her post is routinely intercepted. Her current period of detention began on 30 May 2003 when a convoy she was travelling in was attacked by a militia backed by the regime. Though she escaped the attack she was later imprisoned by the authorities. Around 100 of her supporters were reportedly killed.

Today, her birthday will be marked by readings and performances of The Lady of Burma - a play about Suu Kyi by Richard Shannon - in seven countries and 11 locations around the UK. At Westminster, Bollywood star Kabir Bedi will introduce an extract from the play, performed by actress Liana Gould.

Why is Suu Kyi so loved by the Burmese people and so hated by the regime?
More than a just democracy activist, "The Lady" as she is widely known, embodies the struggle of the Burmese people in the face of adversity. Her father, General Aung San, negotiated Burma's independence from Britain in 1945 before being assassinated by his rivals.

In 1988, a month after up to 3,000 democracy activists were massacred by the government, Suu Kyi established the National League for Democracy (NLD). In 1990 the regime called a general election. Suu Kyi's party won convincingly, securing 392 of 485 seats, but the authorities ignored the result and refused to hand over power. That year she was awarded the Sakharov Prize, and in 1991, the Nobel Peace Prize, the award being collected by her two sons, Alexander and Kim, in her absence.

The regime has routinely fabricated a range of charges against her. It even accused the Oxford-educated Suu Kyi of illegally avoiding paying tax when she spent the $1.3m award money from the Nobel prize to establish a health and education fund for Burmese people.

What has Suu Kyi's life in detention been like?

Her life in and out of jail and at No 54 University Avenue as well as her decision to continue fighting for democracy - the regime has previously offered to release if she would leave the country - has carried a huge personal price. Her husband, Michael Aris, an Oxford professor, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and was refused a visa for Burma. Suu Kyi was faced with an agonising decision: leave Burma, knowing that she would never be allowed back in; or not leave Burma and leave her sick husband without her. She chose to stay in Burma, and Mr Aris died in March 1999. Their two sons live in the UK. She said at the time of his death: "I feel so fortunate to have had such a wonderful husband who has always given me the understanding I needed; nothing can take that away from me."

Last month, the Burmese regime - the State Peace and Development Council - led by General Than Shwe announced that Suu Kyi's period of detention, due to expire at the end of May, had been extended. At that time the UN Working Group said it believed her detention was in breach of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

How has the regime survived in the face of the democracy movement?

Brutality, secrecy - and the failure of most countries to cease investing in and trading with Burma. Despite calls from Suu Kyi and the NLD for countries to impose sanctions, only the US has imposed a blanket ban on investment. The EU has imposed much more limited. targeted sanctions, which campaigners say are ineffective. Violence and secrecy also shore up the regime. In November 2005, the government almost overnight moved its capital from Rangoon, or Yangon, to a new specially created city called Naypyidaw, hundreds of miles away in the jungle. Campaigners believe this was done to locate the military closer to the Shan, Chin and Karen communities, against which the regime is accused of widespread repression.

What can be done to influence the regime?
Campaigners say the key to changing Burma lies with regional powers India, China and Russia - all of which have considerable financial and trade links with the regime, offer political support, and supply it with weapons. In January, China and Russia were condemned for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution requiring the restoration of democracy to Burma. India has been widely condemned for supporting the regime, in particular for its involvement in the massive Shwe gas project, which includes a pipeline to India. Campaigners say the project will be the regime's largest single source of revenue, providing it with an average of $580m per annum for 20 years, a total of $12bn.

Will Suu Kyi still be under detention on her next birthday?
The Burmese regime shows no signs of faltering. India's Burma policy, say campaigners, does not help: it is dictated not by human rights but by India's economic interests. India hopes to counter the increasing Chinese influence in Burma, and wants co-operation from the regime to tackle insurgents in the north-east.

"The world's largest democracy has abandoned Burma's democrats," said Zoya Phan, campaign co-ordinator at the Burma Campaign UK. "India should be ashamed of what they have done, supplying money and weapons to one of the world's most brutal regimes."

The Secretary General of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) said that sanctions against Burma would have little impact because China and India would continue to support it. At the same time, Suu Kyi appears no more willing to give up her struggle for democracy, though questions are repeatedly asked about her health. (She suffers from high blood-pressure and is only permitted to receive visits from doctors once every two months.)

What is Suu Kyi's message to the world?
In a speech smuggled out of Burma in 1997, she wrote: "The cause of liberty and justice finds sympathetic responses in far reaches of the globe. Thinking and feeling people everywhere, regardless of colour or creed, understand the deeply-rooted human need for a meaningful existence ... Those fortunate enough to live in societies where they are entitled to full political rights can reach out to help the less fortunate in other parts of our troubled planet. Young women and young men setting forth to leave their mark on the world might wish to cast their eyes beyond their own frontiers to the shadowlands of lost rights ... Please use your liberty to promote ours."

So will Burma eventually yield to the pressure for democracy?

* There is strong worldwide pressure for change, with the UN, the US and Europe all pressing for action

* Aung San Suu Kyi has considerable influence at grassroots level in Burma, her defiance a problem that the authorities can't shake off

* The Burmese regime has pushed itself into a corner. Other examples of such isolationism suggest that it is ultimately unsustainable


* The financial and political support provided by China and India underpins the Burmese regime

* Burma's National League for Democracy - Suu Kyi's party - has few domestic options and is dependent on international support

* The Burma question fails to lodge in the wider consciousness and rarely comes up in international discussions

Florida ~~ Tuesday June 19 2007


Nobel laureate still locked up


Of all the thousands of political prisoners around the world, none is more justly famous than Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, who observes her 62nd birthday today in captivity and isolation. She remains under house arrest, deprived of visitors, a telephone and other forms of communication. Even though the thugs who run Myanmar have kept her under some form of imprisonment for 11 of the last 17 years, they have been unable to break the spirit of this brave woman. She personifies the spirit of freedom that dwells within prisoners of conscience around the world, from China to Cuba.

Ms. Suu Kyi's crime was to have led her party, the National League for Democracy, to a landslide victory in elections in 1990. The military junta refused to recognize the outcome, however, and promptly clamped down on all forms of democratic activity. Ms. Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been deemed an enemy of the state ever since. Last month, the leader of Myanmar's ruling junta, General Than Shwe, once again extended her sentence for another one-year term, as he has done repeatedly since 2003.

Ms. Suu Kyi has not been forgotten by the international community. The U.N. General Assembly and its human-rights arm have adopted 29 consecutive resolutions on Myanmar, many calling for her release.

So, too, has the European Union and the the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to which Myanmar belongs. U.S sanctions, which restrict trade and investments, were imposed by President Clinton in 1997 and were stiffened by President Bush in 2003.

None of this has cut any ice with the junta, in part because Myanmar is an insular country. But it also helps to have friends, and the junta has some of the biggest. Its neighbors, India and China, have kept quiet about the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and continue to do business with the junta.

An official of the Chinese government met with Prime Minister Thein Sein days ago and agreed to boost their political and economic ties. China is one of the few countries to have made arms deals with the rulers of Myanmar. This is where pressure must be applied. Without at least the tacit support of China, the captors of Ms. Suu Kyi could not keep defying world opinion.

China's government is ruthless with its own dissidents, but it also craves the world's respect. It has rightly come under attack for its support of Sudan's brutality in Darfur. Now, China's support of Myanmar's junta makes it complicit in the imprisonment of Ms. Suu Kyi. Unless it adopts a new policy, China should be known as a serial enabler of human-rights violators around the world.


 Wednesday June 20 2007

Suu Kyi turns 62, tight security in Burma

Rangoon, June 19: Burma’s pro-democracy party released doves and balloons on Tuesday in a quiet ceremony under tight security to mark the 62nd birthday of its detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi. About 250 supporters attended the event at the rundown headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD), not far from the lakeside home where the Nobel peace laureate is under house arrest. "The doves symbolise peace. We also released colourful balloons, which rise like her prestige when they fill the sky," NLD member Lai Lai said.

The party also offered alms to Buddhist monks as members ended seven weeks of prayer vigils at pagodas around Rangoon, said Myint Myint Sein, another party member. "We have had held Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday without her for years. We hope this year will be the last," Mr Myint said.

The atmosphere was tense as about 50 plainclothes police watched the event from across the street, videotaping party supporters as they entered. Many of the activists wore T-shirts reading "Free Aung San Suu Kyi" beneath a portrait of the woman known here simply as "The Lady." Some activists said the police had also staked out their homes.

"Plainclothes police circled around my house on their motorcycles all night until dawn," said Su Su Nway, 34, one of the leaders of the prayer vigil who was herself released from custody earlier in June. She was among more than 60 activists arrested in May for protesting at Ms Suu Kyi’s house arrest. Around 52 are still in custody.

The military government, which has ruled Burma since 1962, extended Ms Suu Kyi’s house arrest by another year in May. She has spent more than 11 of the last 18 years in some form of detention. She was arrested in May 2003 after her convoy was att-acked by a pro-government mob in a clash that her party says left nearly 100 dead.  Her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in 1990, but the junta never allowed it to take office.


Pakistan ~~ Wednesday June 20 2007

Suu Kyi turns 62 in isolation


YANGON: Myanmar opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi spent another birthday under house arrest on Tuesday as her supporters released doves and balloons to accompany prayers for her release.

To mark her 62nd birthday, around 300 supporters gathered at the dilapidated headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won an election landslide victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the military junta. The NLD reiterated its demand for the immediate and unconditional release of Suu Kyi, as well as the other 1,100 political prisoners believed to be behind bars in the former Burma.

As with countless other pleas on countless other “milestones” during Suu Kyi’s 17 years of on-off detention, it is certain to fall on deaf ears. Plain-clothes security police, their long-lens cameras clicking away, kept close watch over the NLD ceremony from across the road. A dozen trucks filled with members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association - the official name of the junta’s political wing - sat nearby. In Manila, 20 people protested outside the Myanmar embassy, and there were similar scenes in New Delhi on Monday evening. However, there were no demonstrations in Thailand, the traditional centre of the Myanmar dissident movement, for fear of repercussions from the military regime now in charge in Bangkok.