Thursday, May 28, 2009

Burmese junta fears repeat of NLD's 1990 triumph

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation

The Burmese military junta is challenging the credibility of Thailand, Asean and the international community over the on-going trial of opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, which might extend her detention for another five years.

Statement after statement from Thailand as chair of Asean, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the Asia-Europe Meeting calling for her immediate release were unlikely heard in Nay Pyi Taw and Rangoon.

Leaders and officials of many countries and regional groupings worked very hard to find words which could hit hard directly to the junta. They called on the generals to take responsibility as a member of the international community.

US President Barack Obama in his latest statement said Suu Kyi's continued detention, isolation and "show trial based on spurious charges" cast serious doubt on the Burmese government's willingness to be a responsible member of the international community.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as chairman of Asean, stressed clearly that with the eyes of the international community on Burma, the honour and credibility of its government were at stake.

The Asia-Europe Meeting's statement after a gathering of foreign ministers in Hanoi on Tuesday called for the early release of those under detention and the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties.

The Burmese junta reacted to these statements negatively and regarded them as interference in its domestic affairs. Perhaps the international community does not really exist in the junta's imagination. Sense of isolation is still strong among the generals whose military regime has run this country continuously for nearly half a century.

A counter statement from Burma's Foreign Ministry said Thailand, as the chair, had "failed to preserve the dignity of Asean, the dignity of Burma and the dignity of Thailand" since Bangkok had commented on a member's internal affairs.

The Burmese authorities continued the trial of Suu Kyi as usual. The presence of some foreign diplomats and journalists in the courtroom in the Insein prison was a single indicator that the international support existed, although the foreign attendance was on and off.

Many observers said the trial was a pretext to keep Aung San Suu Kyi, secretary-general of the National League for Democracy, away from the planned general election next year.

Lessons from the previous election nearly 20 years ago taught the junta that Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom is a grave danger to them. The military-backed National Unity Party won only 10 seats or about 2 per cent of the total 485 seats in the parliament while the NLD swallowed 392 seats in the 1990 election.

That is the reason why Aung San Suu Kyi has had to spend most of her time under house arrest since returning to her home country shortly before the 1988 uprising.

Her current term of house arrest since the bloodshed incident in May 2003 had already ended, on Wednesday 27 May, but Police Brigadier-General Myint Thein, head of the Police Special Branch said the term of Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest could be legally extended for another six months, from now until November 27.

According to the police, the authorities considered releasing her, until the May 4 incident when American John Yettaw swam across the Inya Lake to her residence and spent overnight there with Aung San Suu Kyi's acknowledgement.

The junta charged her of breaching the authorities' "Law to Safeguard the State Against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts" by accommodating the American. If convicted she might be punished with a maximum five years' imprisonment.

Asean and the international community needs to do more to get Aung San Suu Kyi released. Statements alone do not work.

Even sanctions imposed by the US and EU did not seriously hurt the junta, since trade and investment from neighbouring countries like Thailand and China helped release the pressure.

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