Worldwide condemnation has followed Burma’s six-month extension of the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with officials from the UN, EU and US expressing frustration and regret.
Suu Kyi has been under continual house arrest for the past five years. Since returning to the country in 1988, she has spent 12 years under house arrest.
Early Tuesday, police arrested 18 supporters of the Nobel peace laureate who were protesting her detention, opposition sources said.
The latest extension of her open-ended detention came on the 18th anniversary of the landslide election of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the country’s last general election. The junta refused to recognise those election results.
In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the extension “regretful.”
“The sooner restriction on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Myanmar will be able to move towards inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy and full respect of human rights,” Ban said.
The UN uses the junta’s name for Burma.
The UN has been demanding the junta open up the country to international relief aid to victims of the cyclone Nargis, which has killed more than 70,000 and left another 50,000 still missing.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana called the arrest extension “very sad and frustrating,” coming at a time when so many countries and organisations were focusing on providing assistance to the people affected by the cyclone.
“The EU is doing its best to this effect. However, it continues to be deeply concerned by the political situation. Transition to democracy remains important for the future of Burma/Myanmar,” Solana said.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s external relations commissioner, said she was “personally disappointed that a historic opportunity was missed to give a sign of reconciling political life in Burma at a time where national and social cohesion, and solidarity and dialogue, are more needed than ever.”
US President George W Bush said he was “deeply troubled” by the decision of the ruling junta to extend the detention.
The EU and US called upon the regime to release Suu Kyi and all political prisoners. Bush repeated past calls for the government to “begin a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi.”
The 18 NLD members were arrested by plainclothes’ policemen as they marched from their headquarters to Suu Kyi’s Rangoon home. They were taken in two vehicles to an unknown destination.
Suu Kyi and Tin O, party vice-chariman, have been under house arrest since May 30, 2003, when authorities charged her with threatening national security after pro-government thugs attacked her and her followers in Depayin, northern Burma, killing 70 NLD supporters.
According to Burmese law, the government cannot keep prisoners charged with undermining national security under detention for more than five years.
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Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention extended
Yesterday, the regime extended Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention again. No formal announcement was made, but reports say the detention is for at least another six months. She has now spent over 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest. Her current period of house arrest began in 2003. The regime is once again breaking its own laws by extending her detention for a total of more than five years. The State Protection Law 1975, under which she is held, only allows the regime to detain her for a maximum of five years. Around 20 members of the National League for Democracy were also arrested yesterday as they marched to her home to call for her release.
Even though UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was in Burma in the run-up to Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention expiring, he did not call on Burma’s generals to release her. In fact, he didn’t even mention her name. The international community is failing to put pressure on the regime because it is afraid it will affect aid deals. However, the current humanitarian crisis is being caused by a political problem, a dictatorship that refuses to allow aid to reach the people and Aung San Suu Kyi is key to solving that political problem.
More than three weeks after the devastating cyclone in Burma, at least 200,000 people are feared dead and 2.5 million people remain in urgent need of aid. Most people have still not received the aid they desperately need because the regime continues to deny aid workers free access to operate in the areas most severely affected by the cyclone. Following reports that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had secured agreement from Burma’s generals for aid workers to be allowed into the country, it was hoped that things would change. However, it is now clear that the regime is not keeping its word. We continue to receive reports that aid workers are being denied visas and unable to operate freely in the worst affected areas. The US, UK and France are still being blocked from using their resources to deliver the large scale emergency and medical assistance needed.
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