- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2003

RANGOON, Burma — The nation’s military junta yesterday brought detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the capital after closing the offices of her party, confining key party leaders and closing universities across the country.

The Nobel peace laureate was staying at a “safe place” in Rangoon after being brought from Burma’s north, where she was taken into custody two days ago, an official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The crackdown, which has alarmed the United Nations and some foreign governments, followed a violent clash Friday between Mrs. Suu Kyi’s supporters and thousands of pro-junta protesters that left four persons dead and 50 more injured in northern Burma.

The bloodshed and the subsequent crackdown cast a long shadow over U.N.-backed efforts to help the junta and the opposition negotiate the political future of Burma, ruled by the military for 40 years.

The junta came to power after crushing an uprising against military rule in 1988, leaving thousands of civilians dead. It called general elections in 1990, which Mrs. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide but was barred from taking power. The country has been under a “transitional” military rule ever since.

Mrs. Suu Kyi spent six years under house arrest at her Rangoon home, from 1989 to 1995. She spent another 19 months under house arrest until the junta released her in May 2002, raising hopes of a resolution to Burma’s political stalemate.

It is not known why the military has taken action against the opposition at this time, but analysts say pro-junta groups have been gradually increasing pressure on Mr. Suu Kyi and the NLD.

“The world hasn’t reacted,” said Josef Silverstein, an American academic who has studied Burma for five decades, in a telephone interview from the United States. “It strikes me as though the government has made a decision that this is the time to squelch Suu Kyi and the NLD.”

Top NLD members were put under house arrest in the capital, according to party members who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Western diplomats who tried to visit NLD leaders were turned away.

The junta said Saturday that it had also placed 19 NLD members under custody.

Professors said they had been told to close universities and colleges yesterday, a day before the start of a new semester. No reason was given for the closures.

Burma’s university campuses in the past have been hotbeds of pro-democracy activism. After intermittent closures since 1988, they were shut down after 1996 student demonstrations and remained closed until mid-2000.

The NLD’s Rangoon headquarters was closed Saturday “until the present problem is solved,” Brig. Than Tun, a government spokesman, told a news conference. “Otherwise, more problems can be caused.”

Residents and NLD sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday that the party’s branch offices in greater Rangoon and other parts of Burma were being shut.

Human rights groups estimate there are 1,300 political prisoners in Burma, although since the faltering national reconciliation process began in October 2000, hundreds of NLD detainees have been released.


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