- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

From combined dispatches
Pro-democracy activists in Thailand stepped up calls this week for the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as they prepared to commemorate the 10th anniversary of her Nobel Peace Prize award today, though it actually falls on Monday.
Ten years after Mrs. Suu Kyi was awarded the prize on Dec. 10, 1991, for her attempts to bring multiparty democracy to her homeland, basic human rights still are being violated in the country, the Bangkok-based Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) said this week.
"What has worried us is that Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom is still restricted, as well as her freedom of expression and political participation, which are basic human rights," the group, led by Thai political activist Sulak Sivaraksa, said in a statement.
The leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) has been held under loose house arrest at her lakeside residence in Rangoon, Burma's capital, for the past 14 months.
The UCL also called for a peaceful settlement between the ruling State Peace and Development Council and the NLD, who have been engaged in reconciliation talks since October 2000.
Although the NLD swept the 1990 parliamentary elections in Burma, the military junta has refused to yield its grip on power. However, since the current talks began 14 months ago, the political atmosphere has thawed. Nearly 200 opposition figures have been freed in Burma since the start of this year.
But pro-democracy activists say the pace of progress is too slow.
"We will use this date to urge the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, along with all political prisoners held in Myanmar," the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma told Agence France-Presse. The Burmese military calls the country Myanmar and its capital Yangon.
Meanwhile, a U.N. envoy who ended a visit to Burma on Monday said in New York he is hopeful that "significant progress" toward democracy can be achieved in the near future.
Razali Ismail, a former Malaysian U.N. ambassador and General Assembly president who spent last week in the Southeast Asian country, met Mrs. Suu Kyi, as well as top government officials.
"Mr. Razali was pleased that all parties remain committed to the process of national reconciliation and democracy," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said. "He is hopeful that some significant progress could be achieved in the near future."
Mrs. Suu Kyi has been under virtual house arrest for more than a year, despite having entered into secretive talks with the military regime. The talks were brokered by Mr. Razali.
The U.N. envoy has visited Burma six times in the past 18 months. Since January, when Mr. Razali disclosed the talks were under way, the government has freed 190 political prisoners, mostly members of Mrs. Suu Kyi's party one of her key demands.
"The talks are still at the confidence-building stage because there are many prisoners still waiting to be released," NLD secretary U Lwin said in Rangoon on Nov. 29. According to Amnesty International, more than 1,500 Burmese political prisoners are still in jail.
One of the world's least-developed countries, Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current group of generals came to power in 1988 after leading a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy student demonstrations.
That was the year Mrs. Suu Kyi returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother, a former Burmese diplomat and ambassador to India.
Mrs. Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, a leader in the anti-colonial struggle against Britain in the 1940s. He is considered the founder of modern Burma. He was assassinated in 1947, when Mrs. Suu Kyi was just 2 years old.
The bloody 1988 army crackdown on student protesters prompted Mrs. Suu Kyi to create the broad-based NLD, which confounded the army by winning 392 of 485 seats in the 1990 parliamentary elections.
The parliament was never convened and she was put under house arrest for six years.
Her movements have been restricted in various degrees since then.
Mrs. Suu Kyi was educated at Oxford, where she met her husband-to-be, Michael Aris, an English scholar. He died of cancer in March 1999 in Britain after being denied a visa to enter Burma. His wife had not gone to see him in England, fearing she would never be allowed to return to her native land. They have two grown sons.
Burma has received almost no international funding or development aid over the past decade. Western and Asian governments are offering to ease trade bans in proportion to the army's easing up on the pro-democracy camp.
An official of Burma's military government said Monday that a human rights resolution adopted by the United Nations last week reflected positive developments in the country, but contained inaccuracies.
At an impromptu meeting, Labor and Cultural Minister Tin Winn told reporters the General Assembly resolution adopted Nov. 30 was intended to maintain pressure on the regime.
"The final draft reflected some of the positive developments in the country," he said. "But there still remained a few inaccuracies based on false premises obviously left in to maintain pressure on us."
The newly appointed minister, who attended last week's U.N. session in New York, said measures taken by Rangoon to improve its human rights record did not indicate it had caved in.
"Our response was that the measures we had been taking were not because of the pressure put on us, but simply because it was incumbent upon us to do the needful after due consideration," he said.
He added that several Asian countries had defended Burma against the "harsh terms" contained in an earlier draft, and called for a fairer assessment of the country.
Describing the world body as "gravely concerned" about conditions in Burma, the resolution said the country's legal system was "used as an instrument of oppression." But it added that the United Nations was "cautiously encouraged" by recent prisoner releases and the relaxation of some constraints on political parties.
Mr. Razali's latest visit to Burma, which ended Monday, emphasized meetings with ethnic-minority leaders, who are believed to have pressed for a seat at the table in possible tripartite talks in the future.
The Malaysian diplomat held his longest meeting to date with Mrs. Suu Kyi on Sunday, spending 21/2 hours at her lakeside compound, local sources said.
The U.N. envoy, who also had met with her two days earlier, was accompanied by a U.N. officer, while the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was alone, a reliable source told AFP.
The talks are believed to have focused on quickening the pace of prisoner releases and the eventual inclusion of ethnic minorities in tripartite talks after issues between the NLD and the junta are resolved, the source said.
Mr. Razali had returned to Rangoon earlier Sunday from the northern Shan state, where he met with ethnic leaders from two of Burma's 17 "cease-fire groups." These are armed ethnic groups that have agreed to cooperate with the junta in developing parts of the country in return for a degree of autonomy.
Last Saturday, the U.N. envoy held discussions with ethnic Wa and Kokang leaders on regional development and crop-substitution programs to eradicate opium, officials said. He also is believed to have spoken with the semi-autonomous United Wa State Army and the Myanmar National Democracy Alliance Army about their aspirations under a possible future government.
Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based provider of global intelligence to businesses and other clients, last month noted a crackdown by Burma's military government on corruption and the regime's biggest personnel reshuffle in four years. The firm offers some of its research and analysis on the Internet at https://stratfor.com/.
It said that though a transfer of power in Rangoon is still a remote possibility, the country's economic problems may be leading the regime closer to a power-sharing compromise.
Stratfor said the reshuffle which it said included the sacking of the fourth-most senior member of the ruling council, the dismissal or "retirement" of several Cabinet ministers, and the recall of nearly all regional military commanders might be paving the way for even greater changes, as the country's economic problems press the junta closer to power sharing.
The report said Burma faces serious economic troubles as sanctions worsen the effects of a regional and global economic slowdown. It concludes:
"What few foreign investors Myanmar has are fleeing amid complaints of rampant corruption by government officials. The recent purge is an attempt to address both problems. The regime is seeking to win investments and economic aid by convincing the international community it is moving closer to cooperation with the NLD and cracking down on corruption, no matter how high up the political ladder it is found."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide