Skip to comments.Jack Straw: Burmese military brutality cannot be tolerated
Posted on 06/24/2003 4:30:19 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
Last week was Aung San Suu Kyi's 58th birthday. What should have been a day of quiet celebration with family and friends for the Nobel Peace Prize winner was instead spent in detention in a jail outside Rangoon.
The Burmese regime's claims that she is in "protective custody" after her supporters clashed with opponents on May 30 lacks credibility. We know from witnesses' accounts that thugs, armed and hired by the regime, ambushed Ms Suu Kyi and her supporters in a premeditated attack. Dozens of civilians were killed and injured, scores were arrested, many more are still in hiding. The regime has closed the offices of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and detained party leaders and workers across the country.
Ms Suu Kyi herself was taken away by the military authorities. For some time, nobody knew where she was being held, or in what conditions. Last Thursday, the Foreign Office revealed that she was being kept in a two-room hut at the notorious Insein jail just outside Rangoon.
We understand that Ms Suu Kyi is being held under the most draconian legislation that the military authorities have at their disposal - Section 10(a) of the 1975 State Protection Law. This allows for her detention, without access to family or lawyers, for up to five years - with no prospect of appeal.
She has been isolated from her supporters, both inside Burma and beyond. Attempts by others, including Mike O'Brien, a Foreign Office minister, to get in touch with Ms Suu Kyi have been frustrated by the regime. She remains cut off and locked up. This is wholly unacceptable.
Far from Ms Suu Kyi's being in "protective custody", the only people being "protected" by her detention are those in the military regime itself. They hope that by keeping her - and the democratic movement - incarcerated they can cling on to power. The military government, which attempts to run Burma through fear and intimidation, is not only brutal but also corrupt and incompetent. A once prosperous country is being run into the ground. Poverty is rife and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids are spreading.
In stark contrast to the Burmese military junta, and to their enduring fury, Ms Suu Kyi commands the support and respect of the Burmese people. Ever since her party won an election in 1990, the regime has harassed and intimidated Ms Suu Kyi and her supporters. She has already suffered long spells of house arrest and imprisonment.
Hundreds of her supporters are also in prison, many without trial. Others have been blackmailed or intimidated into giving up politics. But whenever and wherever she travels, ordinary people still turn out in their thousands to see and hear her. For them she is a marker of hope for a better future.
The UK, together with our partners in the European Union, the US and other members of the international community, are pressing the regime to begin a process of national reconciliation and democracy. Burma's neighbours too, especially its fellow members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, have been dismayed by the detention of Ms Suu Kyi and have called publicly for her release.
We welcome this international consensus. Regrettably, the Burmese regime shows a cynical and blatant disregard for the views of others. It responds only to direct pressure. The EU has therefore decided to increase sanctions against Burma.
We have already applied an arms embargo and a ban on the sale of any items that could be used for torture or repression, on defence links and non-humanitarian aid. High-level contacts are also prohibited. We have already introduced an assets freeze and the EU has suspended Burma's trading privileges. The US has taken similar steps.
We have now agreed to take these measures further. Our ban on Burmese ministers visiting the EU will be extended to include senior managers of state-run enterprises and officials from organisations linked to the government. Further pressure will follow unless the regime moves rapidly to restore civilian rule and democracy.
The hopes and aspirations of the Burmese people cannot be frustrated. The spirit and justness of the democracy movement cannot be contained by violence or prison cells. We call on the friends of Burma, in Asia and around the world, to redouble their efforts to help Ms Suu Kyi and the people of Burma move towards national reconciliation, respect for human rights and the democracy they so richly deserve.
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