Fri 31 Aug 2007
Filed under: News,Opinion,Other
US President George W. Bush on Thursday strongly condemned the Myanmar military junta’s crackdown on pro-democracy protestors and called for the release of those who have been jailed.
“I strongly condemn the ongoing actions of the Burmese regime in arresting, harassing, and assaulting pro-democracy activists for organizing or participating in peaceful demonstrations,” Bush said in a statement.
He said the activists were merely voicing concerns about recent dramatic increases in the price of fuel “and their concerns should be listened to by the regime rather than silenced through force.”
The US leader, who has personally met with pro-democracy activists from Myanmar — previously known as Burma — at the White House in the past, urged the military rulers to heed international calls to release the jailed protestors immediately.
The junta should also “stop its intimidation of those Burmese citizens who are promoting democracy and human rights” and “release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and … lift restrictions on humanitarian organizations that seek to help the people of Burma,” he said.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy overwhelmingly won elections in 1990, but were never allowed to take office, and she has now spent more than a decade under house arrest.
Bush’s statement came after protestors launched a hunger strike in Yangon Thursday demanding the authorities provide medical treatment for a colleague who suffered a broken leg when police and pro-government militia violently broke up a demonstration on Tuesday.
At least 100 people have been arrested since a rare string of anti-government rallies began on August 19 over a massive hike in fuel prices, according to activists.
Dennis Wilder, a Bush aide specializing in East Asian Affairs, said Thursday that the Myanmar crackdown would be “a major topic of discussion” at a summit meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Sydney next week, which the US leader is due to attend.
The US State Department separately expressed concern over the fate of political prisoners in Myanmar following reports of a hunger strike by an unknown number protesters held at an improvised detention center.
Department spokesman Tom Casey said conditions of Myanmar’s prisons were not good, citing the department’s annual human rights reports. One report accused the military junta of holding prisoners in “harsh and life threatening” conditions.
“But again, the main point is these people shouldn’t be in jail in the first place,” Casey said.
Myanmar’s military regime of 45 years has long dealt harshly with even the slightest show of dissent. But protestors in recent weeks have defied the threat of arrest and beatings to stage new rallies.
US lawmakers on Wednesday called on Bush to demand an urgent UN Security Council meeting on the crackdown.
Casey said Washington would continue to raise the issue at the Security Council but did not give any specific schedule.
Last January, China and Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution urging Myanmar’s rulers to free all political detainees and end sexual violence by the military.
The United Nations estimates there are some 1,100 political prisoners in Myanmar.