Tue, Sep 02, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Myanmar denies Suu Kyi hunger strike

AFP , BANGKOK

Myanmar denied yesterday US allegations that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has begun a hunger strike, just days after the junta unveiled a plan to shift the country toward "democracy."

The government "dismisses the claim by the US State Department deputy spokesman that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is on a hunger strike. The statement is groundless," according to a foreign ministry statement released through Yangon's embassy in Bangkok.

Washington said it had learned that Suu Kyi had launched a hunger strike while being detained by the military, without revealing how it had obtained such information, nor when she had started the strike.

It also warned Myanmar authorities they were fully responsible for her health since placing her under detention after a May 30 ambush on her convoy as she made a political tour of the country's north.

Its claims followed an announcement by Myanmar's newly appointed Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt Saturday of a seven-point roadmap to democracy including "free and fair" elections to be held under a new constitution.

No time frame was given for the elections, however, and observers in Yangon dismissed the speech as a rehash of previous promises to restore a tightly circumscribed form of democracy to Myanmar.

The junta said in its statement that the US move was "an attempt to overshadow recent political developments in Myanmar, in particular Myanmar's roadmap to democracy outlined by the prime minister ... on 30 August, 2003."

In an earlier statement the junta did not explicitly confirm or deny the claim.

"Myanmar's government as well as governments around the world are confused and we firmly believe it is quite odd for the United States State Department to make such a claim without stating any sources to verify its allegation," it said.

Suu Kyi has spent long periods under house arrest. Her latest detention came after an incident blamed by the US and other critics of the Myanmar junta on armed "thugs" backed by Yangon.

Analysts and diplomats said it would not be surprising if Suu Kyi, a world-renowned advocate of non-violent protest, was on hunger strike.

"It would be easy for the regime to show she's not because someone could go and speak to her and confirm it," one Western diplomat said.

He said the news was likely to ruin the regime's attempt to divert world attention away from Suu Kyi and onto Khin Nyunt's policy announcement.

"They had at least managed to take the debate away from the issue of her detention and this report of her hunger strike, which I think is entirely credible, will have taken the wind out of their sails," he said.

"To sum it up, it's put Aung San Suu Kyi back on the map, but at what cost?"

Debbie Stothard from Bangkok-based pressure group Altsean-Burma said she was gravely concerned about the charismatic leader's condition and called for the junta to allow her to see a physician.

"It is definitely in keeping with her strategy of non-violent resistance. She would also be doing it out of concern for other people who are in detention," she said.

The National League for Democracy's entire leadership has also been detained since the May crackdown, and rights groups say some 1,200 other prisoners of conscience are still incarcerated in jails throughout the country.

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