Military rulers silent on Suu Kyi’s detention deadline as donors gather in Myanmar
The Associated Press
Published: May 25, 2008
BANGKOK, Thailand: The deadline for pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest expires this week, but Myanmar’s military rulers remained silent about her fate Sunday as international donors pushed politics aside to help suffering cyclone victims.
The detention of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has been at the center of friction between the secretive junta and many countries around the world, who have tirelessly campaigned for her release. She was last put under house arrest in May 2003, and the term has been renewed every year since.
But this year’s deadline comes at a critical point. Under Myanmar law, no one can be held longer than five years without being released or put on trial, said U.S. lawyer Jared Genser, hired by Suu Kyi’s family to push for her release.
It remained unclear what action, if any, the regime would take as the world focuses on the Southeast Asian country still reeling from Cyclone Nargis. The storm killed 78,000 people three weeks ago and left another 2.4 million people homeless and facing hunger and disease.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives from 50 nations met Sunday for a one-day fundraising conference in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon. The donors have agreed, at least for now, to focus on the humanitarian relief effort.
“We must think about people just now, not politics,” Ban told the conference.
The junta has made it nearly impossible for foreign aid agencies to get access to the Irrawaddy Delta — where the cyclone damage was worst — but the country’s ruling general promised Ban on Friday that those restrictions would be lifted. The government has estimated the economic damage at about US$11 billion (€7 billion).
“Their failure to abide by their own law by refusing to release (Suu Kyi) … is a clear slap in the face to Ban Ki-moon and the ASEAN diplomats and others coming into town,” Genser said, referring to the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “They are out of time to hold her under their own law.”
Genser, of U.S.-based Freedom Now, which represents pro-democracy dissidents in a number of countries, said Suu Kyi’s house arrest expired at midnight Saturday. But Nyan Win, spokesman for her opposition National League of Democracy party, said it would not officially be up until Monday, adding there had been “no sign at all” indicating what the government will do.
On Saturday, the government held the second phase of a referendum vote for a proposed military-backed constitution that had already won overwhelming support and is largely considered a sham by the international community. One provision would prohibit Suu Kyi from holding public office. The military refused to accept the results of a general election in 1990 won by her party.
Suu Kyi has lived under house arrest for about 12 of the past 18 years for leading an internationally hailed movement for democracy in Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military with an iron fist since 1962.