- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

RANGOON, Burma While pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi languishes under house arrest, Burma's ruling junta is trying to demolish her National League for Democracy (NLD) party once and for all.

"The military is desperately trying to stamp the NLD out. A full-force crackdown is in effect," said Debbie Stothard, coordinator of Altsean-Burma, a Bangkok-based group that monitors Burma issues.

On Dec. 21, the junta handed down sentences of up to 21 years for six leading members of the NLD, which won a majority of seats in Burma's 1990 free elections, a poll that was then annulled by the military. The six were tried in closed sessions inside Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison and found guilty of distributing pro-democracy leaflets.

Hundreds of lower-level NLD workers reportedly have been detained throughout the country in the past six months, while Burma's leaders have stepped up their attacks on the opposition NLD.

Mrs. Suu Kyi will be "crushed without mercy," Tin Oo, a leading member of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the official name for the junta, told Burma's state-controlled media.

And in a potentially debilitating move, Mrs. Suu Kyi's brother, Aung San Oo, a U.S. citizen, has sued his sister in an attempt to reclaim half of her residence, which he says should be a jointly owned family property.

Some analysts suspect the junta pushed Aung San Oo, who is not a pro-democracy activist, to file the suit. Since foreigners cannot hold property in Burma, if Aung San Oo wins, his half of the house would be turned over to the government, which then could potentially evict Mrs. Suu Kyi.

Mrs. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since late September, when the junta prevented her from traveling to the central city of Mandalay to visit NLD members.

Some Bangkok-based analysts say that if she loses the lawsuit, the military might keep her under arrest but transfer her to a prison, further isolating the opposition leader.

Although dealings within the junta are often opaque, several theories have emerged as to why the SPDC is attempting to annihilate its opposition.

Some analysts believe a group of hard-liners centered on army chief Maung Aye has gained the upper hand within the military.

The Maung Aye faction believes it can wipe out the NLD and still maintain ties with its key allies, said Chayachoke Chulasiriwongs, a Burma specialist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"Relations with the U.S. couldn't get much worse, the hard-liners figure, so there's not much to lose on that front," he said.

China, Pakistan, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and India are Burma's key trading partners and suppliers of military assistance. None of those countries has commented publicly on the junta's treatment of Mrs. Suu Kyi.

Burma has very limited ties with the West because many Western states imposed tough sanctions on Rangoon in the 1990s after the junta refused to recognize an overwhelming election victory by the NLD.

The hard-liners also may be using the anti-NLD effort to isolate pragmatists within the regime who are in favor of engaging the opposition, Mr. Stothard said.

In July, Zaw Tun, the junta's deputy minister for development, was fired for denigrating the regime's management strategies and suggesting a more pragmatic economic and political approach.

Other Burma experts argue that the junta believes it has generated enough good will by crushing several ethnic insurgencies that people have begun to accept it as the country's legitimate ruler.

But the attempted crackdown could backfire.

"The military has weeded out the NLD members who were fearful, leaving a hardened, more sophisticated, tougher group of activists willing to take more serious and extreme measures," Mr. Stothard said.

And if free elections were held again, the NLD would probably triumph.

Many Rangoon residents quietly but adamantly express admiration for Mrs. Suu Kyi, although they have become increasingly wary of talking about politics.

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