Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi barely escaped with her life when her driver sped away from a government-backed mob as her top lieutenant and dozens of supporters lay dead and wounded, an eyewitness to the May 30 incident told Congress yesterday.

Wunna Maung, a member of the security detail that day for Mrs. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), provided new details of the incident at a remote north Burmese town, one that resulted in the detention of Mrs. Suu Kyi and fresh condemnation of Burma’s military junta by the Bush administration and the United Nations.

Mr. Maung, addressing a House International Relations subcommittee hearing on Burma’s human rights record, recalled that Mrs. Suu Kyi and a caravan of nearly 600 NLD supporters were continually harassed on a campaign speaking tour through the region, culminating in a brutal assault at a small village near the town of Saingpyin.

Ordered by Mrs. Suu Kyi not to resist, her supporters and guards were systematically attacked by the government mob, which accused the NLD backers of being “henchmen” for foreign powers hostile to the regime.

“I still cannot get rid of the sight of people, covered in blood, being beaten mercilessly to death,” recalled Mr. Maung.

More than 100 people were believed killed in the attack, with many others, including top NLD official U Tin Oo, seriously wounded. Mrs. Suu Kyi’s driver sped away after attackers broke a window in her car.

“If [Mrs. Suu Kyi] had stayed there, she would surely have been killed,” Mr. Maung said.

In Rangoon, U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail had a 90-minute private audience with Mrs. Suu Kyi yesterday at her home, where she remains under house arrest, according to wire-service reports. It was the envoy’s first face-to-face meeting with her since her May 30 detention.

Mr. Razali also met with new Burmese Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyut as part of a mission to obtain the 1993 Nobel peace Prize winner’s freedom and restart a political dialogue in the country.

Asked by reporters if he had any news to report after his two meetings, the U.N. representative replied, “No, nothing.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a strong appeal for Mrs. Suu Kyi’s release Tuesday and the Bush administration has been sharply critical of Burma’s human rights record.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials are still awaiting word of the result of Mr. Razali’s trip, but added, “We very much remain concerned about the status of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in detention in Burma.”

Several lawmakers urged Burma’s neighbors to take stronger steps to isolate the regime and force political reform.

The United States has imposed a near-total ban on trade with Burma, but several of the country’s Southeast Asian neighbors have resisted such moves.

“The United States has done its job, and now it’s time for the rest of the world to do its job to put the nails in the coffin of this regime,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat.

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