Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Australia condemns Suu Kyi conviction

By Sandra O'Malley

(The Age) -Canberra has condemned the latest conviction against Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and plans to call in the Burmese ambassador to protest against the verdict.

It also flagged a further tightening of sanctions against Burma's military junta.

On Tuesday, the Burmese opposition leader was sentenced to three years' jail but the ruling junta signed an order commuting the term to 18 months' house arrest.

Suu Kyi was charged following an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside residence in May.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia condemned the conviction and sentencing, which removed any prospect of Suu Kyi taking part in Burmese elections scheduled next year.

"Australia again repeats its call for the Burmese regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi immediately and unconditionally, and to release the more than 2,000 political prisoners in Burma," he said in a statement.

Mr Smith has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to call in the Burmese ambassador to express Australia's "dismay" at the turn of events.

"Australia's ambassador to Burma is on my instruction also conveying the Australian government's views directly to the Burmese regime," he said.

Burma's ruling junta has kept Suu Kyi in detention for nearly 14 of the past 20 years after it refused to recognise her National League for Democracy party's landslide victory in 1990 elections.

Mr Smith said there was still opportunity for the Burmese government to set aside the conviction and sentence, and lead the country down the path to national reconciliation.

"Australia will now consult closely with the international community including the United Nations and Australia's ASEAN partners on the need to put even more pressure on the Burmese regime to move down the path of democracy," he said.

"Australia maintains financial sanctions against the Burmese regime.

"The government will now move to update these and keep them focused for maximum impact."

The opposition and Australian Greens backed the condemnation of the Burmese regime.

"The military rulers have used trumped-up charges to prevent Suu Kyi from taking an active role during elections to be held next year," opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said.

"Any election held without the direct involvement of Suu Kyi cannot be accepted as legitimate by the international community."

Greens senator Scott Ludlam, co-chair of Australian Parliamentarians for Democracy in Burma, said the verdict was as illegitimate as the Burmese regime.

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