Tue 30 Nov 2004
Filed under: News,Opinion
Jakarta: Burma’s ruling military junta has placed Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s charismatic opposition leader, under an additional year of house arrest, dashing hopes for an opening to democracy any time soon, government opponents said Monday.
Police visited Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in Rangoon, the capital, over the weekend and informed her of the move, according to members of her party, the National League for Democracy.
The decision, not officially announced, follows the junta’s release last month of 9,000 prisoners, including former student leader Min Ko Naing, the second most prominent political detainee. However, he was among only a few dozen political prisoners released, opposition figures said.
“They are trying to deceive the international community,” said Zin Linn, a National League for Democracy member living in exile in Bangkok, referring to the prisoners’ release.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is the key person who can change Burma into a democratic society,” he said. “The leader of the military junta is a very ambitious dictator so he will not allow her to share power.”
Suu Kyi, whose name is pronounced Soo Chee, has been in detention for nine of the last 15 years. She won the Nobel Peace Prize while detained in 1991. Her most recent confinement began in May 2003, after a bloody crackdown by government-sponsored gangs on her and her supporters.
That incident marked the beginning of the government’s effort to shore up its power, said Debbie Stothard, coordinator of Bangkok-based ALTSEAN-Burma, a human rights organization.
Since then, the junta has dismissed several senior members, including the prime minister, Khin Nyunt, who was regarded by officials of other countries as being willing to negotiate democratic reforms.
While the new prime minister, Lt. Gen. Soe Win, apparently coordinated the crackdown, Stothard said, the real power rests with the junta’s top leader, Gen. Than Shwe, who may be moving Burma back to the “traditional military regime” of Gen. Ne Win. Ne Win seized power in 1962, and his
26-year dictatorship left Burma isolated and impoverished.
Last year, Soe Win declared that the junta would not conduct a dialogue with opposition members and would never surrender power to them.
As recently as Friday, Burma’s foreign minister, Nyan Win, speaking before a summit of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Laos, told reporters that the government was serious about a proposed “road map to democracy.”
But the extension of Suu Kyi’s house arrest is a “slap in the face” to ASEAN, which is meeting on Monday and Tuesday, Stothard said.
A petite woman whose father, Gen. Aung San, is a national hero, Suu Kyi, 59, has been a constant threat to the regime. She has been detained three times, apparently each time the government saw her party gaining support.
Zin Linn expressed hope that Min Ko Naing, the former student leader, can help keep the reform spirit alive. According to sources in Burma, he said, students and young people have been flocking to Min Ko Naing’s home in Rangoon, where he has encouraged them to seek change.
“He cannot replace Suu Kyi, but in other ways, he can coordinate while Suu Kyi is under house arrest,” Zin Linn said. “The young generation are hoping for a leader.”