Thursday, June 4, 2009

Darkness descends on Burma's lady by the lake


(Bangkok Post) -Burma's charasmatic pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi is set to remain in detention for at least another five years, according to diplomats based in Rangoon.

Her trial will conclude later this week in yet another secret session inside Insein prison. Meanwhile the international outcry and protests throughout the world since she was arrested and charged last month, show no sign of subsiding.

In fact General Than Shwe's master-plan to make sure the country's iconic democracy leader is in no position to "sabotage" his scheme, intended to introduce a civilian government dominated by the military after next year's scheduled elections, has badly backfired.

Instead of a quiet trial and sentencing, the international community is up in arms.

"With one foul swoop, Than Shwe has undermined his own strategy of trying to sideline Aung San Suu Kyi," said a senior Western diplomat who knows the opposition leader well. "There is now an international furore that we haven't seen since Aung San Suu Kyi was detained six years ago. Than Shwe's actions have proved once again that she remains in everyone's minds inside and outside the country as Burma's real leader."

The Burmese authorities are so worried by the posisbility that the UN may bow to Western pressure to step up sanctions and other measures against the regime, that they have launched a diplomatic offensive at the United Nations in New York and many of the world's capitals to deflect international pressure.

Although the Security Council adopted a weakened press statement more than a week ago voicing concern over Mrs Suu Kyi's trial and calling for the release of all political prisoners, the regime knows that a guilty verdict will only fuel demands for tougher action against them at the UN.

Already Burma's generals have realised that their treatment of the pro-democracy leader has put increased pressure on them at international and regional ministerial gatherings. The issue dominated the Asian and European foreign ministers meeting in Hanoi a week ago and again at the EU-Asean foreign ministers summit in Phnom Penh later in the week. The Burmese foreign minister skipped both meetings, leaving his deputy to deal with the issue. Again on the weekend, at an international defence ministers' gathering in Singapore, Burma's deputy defence minister, Maj Gen Aye Myint - who was attending the security conference because General Than Shwe, who is both the country's top general and the defence minister, has refused to attend international meetings for nearly six years now to avoid being chastised about the situation in the country - felt it necessary to defend his government's actions against Mrs Suu Kyi. "The legal action against Aung San Suu Kyi is merely the internal affairs of Myanmar, taking action through its legal system in accordance with domestic law," Maj Gen Aye Myint told the annual forum of defence ministers, academics, analysts and experts.

"If offenders are not [prosecuted], anarchy will prevail, and there will be breach of peace and security," he said. She is guilty of "committing a cover-up of the truth by her failure to report an illegal immigrant", he added.

Mrs Suu Kyi is facing five years in prison if convicted of the charges that she broke the conditions of her current house arrest by allowing an uninvited visitor - the American Vietnam War veteran John William Yettaw, who secretly swam across the lake to her back door earlier this month - to stay and gave him food and drink. She insists she is innocent. "I am not guilty because I have not commited any crime," said Ms Suu Kyi when she gave her testimony to the court more than a week ago, according to her lawyer.

"I'm sure they will jail Daw Suu," said Aung Thein, a prominent lawyer who was helping prepare her defence when his law licence was revoked on the eve of the trial opening a week ago.

Human rights groups believe revoking Aung Thein's right to practice law was the latest "blatant attempt" by the regime to intimidate lawyers who are working on political cases. More than a dozen lawyers are currently in jail for working on "sensitive" cases, including defending top monks and former student leaders arrested during the September 2007 protests that were crushed by the military.

Concern over the mounting international pressure on Burma has prompted the regime to go on a diplomatic offensive. Several spurious interpretations are now being actively spread by the junta: the incident was organised by "internal and external anti-government forces" - a term the junta uses to refer to pro-democracy groups - Burma's foreign minister, Nyan Win, informed his Japanese counterpart the day after the trial started.

"Foreign countries should realise that the present case concerning Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not 'trumped up' by the government, as some have been willing to claim," said a briefing note sent by the foreign ministry to all Burmese embassies around the world, urging them to defend the government's position.

"Ignorance by big countries of Myanmar's political process is tantamount to derailing Myanmar's transition to democracy," (JEG's: joke for the day) the briefing paper continued. "Interference in Myanmar's internal affairs amounts to sabotaging the state constitution already approved by the people and slowing down the measures that will enable the people to enjoy their democratic rights."

Burma's deputy defence minister told his audience in Singapore that other countries "should refrain from interfering in [Myanmar's] internal affairs that will affect peace and security of the region". He went on to warn the international community that continued interference in Burma's internal affairs "may possibly affect mutual understanding and friendly relations [with other countries]".

This is the crux of the Burmese government's attempt to deflect international criticism. The military regime's real fear is the UN Security Council. "The only body that the junta really fears is the Security Council," the former UN Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said. "I have personal evidence of this. So the Security Council must address this immediately as matter of absolute urgency."

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