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International Pressure Mounts on Burma Over Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi

By Ron Corben
15 May 2009

International pressure for the release of Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from prison is mounting. But Burma's pro-democracy activists and opposition politicians say the international response, including from the United Nations, needs to be coordinated.

Aung San Suu Kyi is being held in a lodge inside the Insein Prison in Rangoon.

The opposition leader is charged with breaching the conditions of her six-year house arrest because an American man earlier this month swam to her lakeside compound and stayed overnight. He was then was arrested when leaving.

The man, John Yettaw, remains in detention and faces trial in Burma. His intrusion has angered many Burmese activists for jeopardizing Aung San Suu Kyi's situation. Many had hoped she would be freed late this month, when the current order for her detention was to expire.

On Friday, Burmese political activists, supporters and politicians in Bangkok said there must be a concerted call by the international community for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 other political prisoners.

Thin Thin Aung is a board member of the Women's League of Burma.

"The international community should not be silent and also act very urgently and firmly, and send the strong signal to the regime that they can no longer act with impunity of such kinds of violations of basic human rights and democratic rights for her and also the other political prisoners," she said.

The United States, Britain, France and other countries have condemned the arrest of the 1991 Nobel peace laureate.

Activists Friday called for United Nations intervention, and said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should go to Burma to talk with the military leaders.

Activists say the military is using Yettaw's intrusion to extend Suu Kyi's detention to keep her and her party, the National League for Democracy, from participating in elections in 2010.

Thin Thin Aung says Aung San Suu Kyi's participation in the election is necessary to ensure national reconciliation.

"Without the release of Aung San Suu Kyi there will be no inclusive political process, and there will be no peaceful transition and no reconciliation and also no lasting peace and democracy in Burma," she said.

But pro-democracy groups say the military is using the 2010 election to extend its control over the country through an elected parliament.

Thailand, currently chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, expressed concern about the situation and urged fellow member Burma to ensure the political process is inclusive.

Kraisak Choonhavan is a government member of the Thai parliament and president of the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Caucus on Burma. He says the international community should take tough action on Burma, including prosecuting the senior military leaders.

"The proof is here. The arrest and the military court that is being held against Aung San Suu Kyi is proof that the regime is to be condemned," said Kraisak. "We stand by the words that Burma no longer belongs to the international community."

Other ASEAN states also have expressed concern about Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest, an unusual breach of the group's usual policy of not commenting on members' internal affairs.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house detention. Her trial on the latest charges begins on Monday.

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