London ~~ Saturday May 31 2008
Cowardice of silence
The renewal of Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest casts shame on the Burmese junta's western sponsors
By John Pilger
When I phoned Aung San Suu Kyi's home in Rangoon yesterday, I imagined the path to her door that looks down on Inya Lake. Through ragged palms, a trip-wire is visible, a reminder that this is the prison of a woman whose party was elected by a landslide in 1990, a democratic act extinguished by men in ludicrous uniforms. Her phone rang and rang; I doubt if it is connected now. Once, in response to my "How are you?" she laughed about her piano's need of tuning. She also spoke about lying awake, breathless, listening to the thumping of her heart.
Now her silence is complete. This week, the Burmese junta renewed her house arrest, beginning the 13th year. As far as I know, a doctor has not been allowed to visit her since January, and her house was badly damaged in the cyclone. And yet the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, could not bring himself to utter her name on his recent, grovelling tour of Burma. It is as if her fate and that of her courageous supporters, who on Tuesday beckoned torture and worse merely by unfurling the banners of her National League for Democracy, have become an embarrassment for those who claim to represent the "international community". Why?
Where are the voices of those in governments and their related institutions who know how to help Burma? Where are the honest brokers who once eased the oppressed away from their shadows, the true and talented peacemakers who see societies not in terms of their usefulness to "interests" but as victims of it? Where are the Dennis Hallidays and Hans von Sponecks who rose to assistant secretary-general of the UN by the sheer moral force of their international public service?
The answer is simple. They are all but extinguished by a virus called the "war on terror". Where once men and women of good heart and good intellect and good faith stood in parliaments and world bodies in defence of the human rights of others, there is now cowardice. Think of the parliament at Westminster, which cannot even cajole itself into holding an inquiry into the criminal invasion of Iraq, let alone to condemn it and speak up for its victims. Last year, 100 eminent British doctors pleaded with the minister for international development, then Hilary Benn, for emergency medical aid to be sent to Iraqi children's hospitals: "Babies are dying for want of a 95 pence oxygen mask," they wrote. The minister turned them down flat.
I mention that because medical aid for children is exactly the kind of assistance the British government now insists the Burmese junta should accept without delay. "There are people suffering in Burma," said an indignant Gordon Brown. "There are children going without food ... it is utterly unacceptable that when international aid is offered, the regime will try to prevent that getting in." David Miliband chimed in with "malign neglect". Say that to the children of Iraq and Afghanistan and Gaza, where Britain's role is as neglectful and malign as any. As scores of children in Shia areas of Baghdad are blown to bits by America and what the BBC calls Iraq's "democratic government", the British are silent, as ever. "We" say nothing while Israel torments and starves the children of Gaza, ignoring every attempt to bring a ceasefire with Hamas, all in the name of a crusade that dares not say its name. What might have been a new day for humanity in the post-cold war years, even a renewal of the spirit of the Declaration of Human Rights, of "never again" from Palestine to Burma, was cancelled by the ambitions of a sole rapacious power that has cowed all. The "war on terror" allows Australia and Israel to train Burma's internal security thugs. It consumes both most humanitarian aid indirectly and the very internationalism capable of bringing the "clever" pressure on Burma, about which Aung San Suu Kyi once spoke.
Dismissing the idiocy of a military intervention in her country, she asked: "What about all those who trade with the generals, who give them many millions of dollars that keep them going?" She was referring to the huge oil and gas companies, Total and Chevron, which effectively hand the regime $2.7bn a year, and the Halliburton company (former chief executive Vice-President Dick Cheney) that backed the construction of the Yadana pipeline, and the British travel companies that send tourists across bridges and roads built with forced labour. Audley Travel promotes its Burma holidays in the Guardian. The BBC, in contravention of its charter, has just bought 75% of Lonely Planet travel guides, a truculent defender of "our" right to be tourists in Burma regardless of slave labour, or cyclones, or the woman beyond the trip-wire. Shame.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
NLD Members Arrested; Suu Kyi’s Sentence Extended
About 16 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) held a brief demonstration in Rangoon on Tuesday asking for the release of Aung San Su Kyi. (Photo: PDC)
NLD Members Arrested; Suu Kyi’s Sentence Extended
By WAI MOE
At least 15 members of Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were arrested as they marched towards the home of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday in a demonstration marking the 18th anniversary of the 1990 general election.
The demonstrators, mostly young members of the party, shouted slogans demanding the release of Suu Kyi from house arrest and calling on the regime to allow international relief workers to help bring aid to cyclone victims. They held up a picture of Suu Kyi.
NLD members are driven away in three trucks, left center, after their arrest by security forces. Security personnel on motorcycles follow behind. (Photo: PDC)
Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, the government announced that Suu Kyi’s detention had been officially extended. It was not immediately clear if the extension was for six months or one year. The extension became official when she was informed of it.
Suu Kyi was due to complete five years of house arrest this week. The conditions of her detention, under Article 10 (b) of the State Protection Act, provide for a maximum of five years.
But analysts were doubtful that she would be freed in the near future and suggested her detention could continue until 2010, when the junta plans to hold a general election.
The extension of Suu Kyi’s house arrest was also linked to the sensitive issue of the regime’s handling of the relief effort in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. After more than three weeks of blocking foreign aid workers, the junta has tried to appear more receptive to a role for outsiders as it seeks some US $11 billion in aid.
“The junta wouldn’t release her while it is facing a critical situation after the cyclone,” Win Naing, a member of the NLD’s information committee told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
The NLD also said a high-ranking police officer went to Suu Kyi’s lakeside residence on Thursday afternoon.
“We got information that she was visited by Police Col Win Naing Tun this afternoon,” said Win Naing.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda called on Tuesday for her release, saying it would be way of thanking the international community for its generosity after the cyclone, according to a report by Associated Press.
"I hope for the best but, to be frank, I'm not optimistic," he said.
Tuesday’s demonstration calling for Suu Kyi’s release began near the NLD headquarters. Plainclothes police and members of the junta-backed Swan Ah-shin militia intercepted the demonstrators near the junction of Gabaraye Pagoda Road and University Avenue, the lakeside road where Suu Kyi lives.
The NLD held a formal ceremony on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the 1990 election. Police tightened security around the party headquarters during the ceremony.
Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy which won 11 seats in the election, said he never expected the vacuum left by the regime’s refusal to recognize the election result to last 18 years. “The situation gets ever worse for the people of Burma,” he said.
Aye Thar Aung said the cyclone crisis indicated how important good governance was in times of natural disaster. “Until there is a good government in Burma we will see people suffer.”
The Burmese regime has been condemned by governments around the world for its handling of the crisis.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has just returned to New York after meeting members of the junta to discuss the crisis and appeal for greater access by international aid workers.
The UN chief said he had not raised the issue of Suu Kyi’s detention because the broader humanitarian concerns of bringing aid to the cyclone victims were more pressing.
“We must think about people just now, not politics,” he said.