Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 9 News List

US talks tough about repressive Myanmar junta

By Simon Tisdall  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The awarding of the Nobel peace prize to Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, was celebrated last week. But this month sees a landmark event concerning another Nobel peace prize-winner that is less of a cause for international congratulation. In fact, it is a cause for international shame.

On Oct. 24, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar's democracy movement who won the Nobel peace award in 1991, will mark her 10th year in detention at the hands of Myanmar's military junta. Suu Kyi was held under house arrest from 1989 to 1995, following elections that her National League for Democracy (NLD) won but which the generals overturned, and from 2000 to 2002.

In May 2003, she was arrested again after an unknown number of NLD supporters were killed or beaten in the notorious "Depayin massacre."

The conditions under which Suu Kyi, aged 60, is now held in her Rangoon home are becoming more onerous, according to the Myanmar Campaign UK.

"She is allowed no visitors, her phone line has been cut, her post intercepted. NLD volunteers providing security at her compound have been removed. The UN envoy to Myanmar has been barred from entering the country," it said.

In a report to the UN General Assembly last month, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the special rapporteur on Myanmar for the UN's Commission on Human Rights, said gross violations were ongoing. Widespread reports of forced labor, violence against minorities, rape, extortion and expropriation by government forces continue to be received, Mr Pinheiro said.

He dismissed last March's national political convention, organized by the junta as part of a supposed reform and reconciliation program, because opposition parties were banned from attending. Pinheiro said 1,100 political prisoners remained in jail. And partly because he too had been prevented from visiting Myanmar since Nov. 2003, he said he was deeply concerned about Suu Kyi.

"It is deeply regrettable that NLD general-secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her 60th birthday under house arrest," he said.

"Her virtual solitary confinement and lack of access to NLD colleagues run counter to the spirit of national reconciliation ... The transition to a full, participatory and democratic system in Myanmar can no longer be postponed," he said.

For too many years, such calls for action in Myanmar have been heard and politely ignored. But in a significant shift towards a more engaged if not confrontational stance, the administration of US President George W. Bush signaled last month that it is not only listening; it has decided to act. Speaking in Washington, Eric John, the US State Department's deputy assistant secretary for East Asia, served notice that time may finally be running out for the junta.

"The Burmese regime remains exceptionally repressive and is becoming even harsher in its treatment of its people," John said.

"We are working with our partners to support efforts to place Myanmar on this month's Security Council agenda. Myanmar's junta must take steps ... to bring its deplorable human rights practices into conformity with international standards," he said.

If the US succeeds in winning Security Council backing, a new resolution could deem Myanmar a threat to international peace and security. On that basis, UN demands would include the immediate release of Ms Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, free access for the UN's envoys and aid agencies, and genuine, UN-facilitated moves by the junta towards the restoration of democracy -- on pain of international sanctions and other, unspecified collective UN action.

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