- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The detention of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and violent clashes between her supporters and the repressive military junta have brought a sharp, definitive end to the recent political thaw there, lawmakers and human rights groups said yesterday.

Questions still surround the fate of Mrs. Suu Kyi and about 20 supporters of her National League for Democracy, with the government yesterday denying accounts by exiles and dissidents that Mrs. Suu Kyi had been hurt and scores of her supporters killed during a campaign swing late last week near the northern city of Mandalay.

“It appears the hawks in the military government have gotten the upper hand,” said T. Kumar, Washington director of Asian human rights programs for Amnesty International. “All the gains we were seeing six months ago have been lost in the past few months.”

President Bush, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other world leaders criticized the detentions and appealed for the government to release Mrs. Suu Kyi and her followers.

Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win yesterday reportedly gave the government’s fullest account to date of the fate of Mrs. Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has not been seen in public since Friday.

The minister “reiterated that foreign media reports about Suu Kyi being injured in the violence were not true,” a foreign diplomat told reporters in Rangoon after a briefing. “He said she was not hurt at all.”

The government claims that four persons were killed and 50 injured when rowdy democracy activists sparked a melee with government supporters.

But the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma reported a much higher casualty figure — as many as 75 dead — and there were persistent reports from Thailand and from Burmese groups for democracy that Mrs. Suu Kyi herself had been injured, possibly in the head, after being attacked by junta forces.

Contradicting official media reports in Burma, the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia yesterday quoted an unnamed witness as saying a squad of about 100 police, men dressed as monks, and convicts attacked Mrs. Suu Kyi’s convoy between the towns of Butalin and Monywa.

“It’s still all very sketchy, but what is clear is that the government is increasingly scared by the overwhelming popular support Aung San Suu Kyi has been receiving,” said Dan Beeton, director of campaigns for the Washington-based Free Burma Coalition.

cRichard S. Ehrlich contributed to this report from Bangkok.

The clashes are in contrast to the earlier apparent thaw in relations between the National League for Democracy and the government that has ruled Burma since 1988.

The regime released Mrs. Suu Kyi from detention in May 2002, and there were tentative efforts to allow the democracy movement to rebuild its political network.

Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat and ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, said yesterday that the weekend crackdown proved “Burma’s thug regime has abandoned its international charm offensive and showed its true nature.”

Mr. Lantos, who plans to introduce new sanctions against the regime in the House today, said U.N. envoy to Burma Razali Ismail should call off a planned trip to Burma Friday to promote political reconciliation if the regime does not promise to allow him to meet with Mrs. Suu Kyi.

In Malaysia, Mr. Razali told Agence France-Presse he was undecided about whether to proceed with his planned five-day trip.

Richard S. Ehrlich contributed to this report from Bangkok.

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