Thursday, May 21, 2009

British Ambassador Says Suu Kyi Clearly Still a “Major Figure”

The Irrawaddy News

Britain’s Ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, said on Thursday it’s clear from the reaction of officials at the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that she remains a “major figure” in her country.

“It was interesting to see security officials craning to get a look at someone who is clearly still a major figure,” Canning told The Irrawaddy when asked to describe the courtroom scene.

Canning was one of 30 international diplomats allowed to attend Wednesday’s session of the trial.

The Irrawaddy asked him to describe his impressions:

Mark Canning

Answer: It's taking place within the compound of Insein jail and we were allowed in to watch proceedings for about one hour. We were able to see, at quite close quarters, the four defendants—Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, her two companions from University Avenue and the US citizen, Mr Yettaw. Daw Suu, given all she has been through, looked in reasonable health and spirits. She was poised, upright, alert and dignified, and was clearly in command of her legal team. It was interesting to see security officials craning to get a look at someone who is clearly still a major figure. The proceeding consisted of a presentation of physical evidence to support the government case of a break-in to Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound, and afterwards three diplomatic colleagues were allowed to meet with Daw Suu at her accommodation close by.

Question: Will it be a fair trial?

A: It looks pretty much like a courthouse anywhere else—judges, defense, prosecution— all the physical trappings. But the outcome in these sorts of trials—and don't forget we've seen over 1,000 political prisons locked away over the past 16 months—tends to be pretty predictable, sadly.

Q: Why were diplomats granted this access?

A: It looks as though the government, with the deadline for the expiry of Aung San Suu Kyi’s term of house arrest approaching, seized on what looked like a God-given opportunity to shut her away until well after the elections. We've seen in recent days a surge of international criticism and in particular some strong statements from Asean— which expressed grave concern and made clear that the honor and credibility of Myanmar was on the line—as well as from a range of neighbors. The decision to allow access to the court, and for some to Daw Suu, appears intended to soften the criticism.

Q: Will that work?

A: We'll see. It's obviously welcome we were allowed access, but I don't imagine many people will confuse a one hour trip to Insein with progress on the fundamental issue, which is the illegality of her detention. Whatever the truth of the alleged break-in, the fact is that she shouldn't have been under house arrest in the first place. She, and the 2,000 other prisoners of conscience held around the country, should be released, and until that reality is addressed the situation will continue to attract international criticism. There looks to be an increasing sense within the region that the progress being made in so many ways, including in efforts to embed common standards of human rights, should not continue to be tarnished by what is happening here. I've seen two editorials carried in major regional papers to that effect just today.

Q: With the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, how do you see the road map and repeated calls for inclusiveness in the political process and coming election? Was the arrest an indicator that Su Kyi and the National League for Democracy are no longer allowed in the road map process? What is the British government’s stance on the coming election?

A: The events of the past week have served to demonstrate once again and very clearly the nature of 2010. Clearly the elections will carry no credibility unless we see the release of political prisoners, the start of a meaningful dialogue between government and opposition and ethnic nationalities (to which, if allowed the chance, Daw Suu has again committed herself) and cooperation with the UN.

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