Another dark day in Burma
June 8 , 2003
Ms Suu Kyi was travelling in northern Burma when democracy supporters clashed with pro-junta crowds. The trip was part of a month-long tour where she met with supporters and opened several National League for Democracy (NLD) offices.
The clash was not unexected. Recently both sides had engaged in a fierce war of words, indicating that tension between Ms Suu Kyi and Junta officials was mounting.
Four people were reportedly killed and 50 injured during the fracas, according to a government spokesperson. Several vehicles were also burned during the two-hour confrontation, which should have been stopped sonner by local officials. Initial reports indicated that there were gunshots, but the military denied any shooting took place.
Burma’s military government, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), held a special press briefing to announce that Ms Suu Kyi and NLD members were being kept in protective custody. Military sources did not reveal where they had been detained.
Sources confirmed reports that the NLD headquarters in Rangoon had been sealed off by authorities. Top NLD party members in Rangoon were placed under house arrest and their phone lines cut, making it almost impossible to obtain information about the situation.
Razali Ismail, the UN special envoy to Burma, arrived in Burma on Friday. In a statement in Bangkok on Thursday he said it was decided by senior UN officials that he should go ahead with his scheduled trip and express the UN demand to the junta that, “Suu Kyi should be released and I should be allowed to see her.
“Suu Kyi must be released,” he emphasised. This is the third time the Nobel Peace Laureate has been detained. Supporters are hoping her detentions is temporary, unlike her last period of house arrest which lasted 19 months.
Since her release in May 2002, Ms Suu Kyi had been allowed to travel outside Rangoon to meet supporters and re-open NLD officers which were shut down by the SPDC. But the so-called “secret dialogue” between her and her former captors stalled.
The fact that is the junta who are disrespecting democratic values is quite clear.
Though her previous trips outside Rangoon were relatively peaceful, Ms Suu Kyi, her party officials and their supporters have faced occasional harassment and intimidantion from authorities and SPDC sympathisers.
This time, junta leaders seemed to be making preparations for her trip to the North. They had agreed to protect her during her travels, but lately a milita-like organisation equipped with slingshots, knives and bamboo sticks has reportedly harassed the NLD members and their supporters. Perhaps these enemies of democracy are Burma’s real “destructive elements”.
The junta has also called upon members of the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA), its mass political organisation, to attack Ms Suu Kyi and bully her supporters at every stop. Military leader Sr Gen Than Shwe is also chairman of the USDA.
Since the appearance of pro-government troublemakers, it has been a rough ride for Suu Kyi and her party members. Two weeks ago, junta supporters reportedly threw bricks at her vehicle. Others shouted: “Run for your livers or you will have to pick up your own corpses,” said NLD spokesperson, U Lwin.
The intimidation and harassment has been constant. On her way back from Kachin State, Ms Suu Kyi and party members came across more and more anti-NLD demonstrators, who were allegedly organised by local officials.
In some cases, local monks and abbots accompanied Ms Suu Kyi’s entourage in order to prevent attacks. The Government has made little at tempt to maintain law and order, NLD officials in Rangoon told news agencies.
Ms Suu Kyi also raised the political stakes on her recenttrip, after realising that the leaders in Rangoon do not have the courage to engage in constructive dialogue with the NLD.
Last month, the NLD marked the 13th anniversary of its Iandslide 1990 election victory, which was never recognised by the military government. Its members called out the junta for failing to honour the election results. “The NLD must stand up firmly to achieve the result of the elections of 1990. To ignore the result of the 1990 elections is to have total disrespect for the people and is also an insult to the people,” said Ms Suu Kyi. This was the strongest statement she has made since her release from house arrest.
NLD leaders back in Rangoon also pressed the junta. “They have broken the legally binding promise undertaken by them. It is not for the NLD to be repeatedly asking for parliament to be convened,” said an opposition statement.
Surprisingly, despite the physical obstacles and ill-will, Ms Suu Kyi’s visits have been successful. Thousands of people have turned up to listen to her speeches and shout “Long Live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.” She has also met with ethnic leaders, although her attempts to meet some Kachin leaders were blocked by local officials.
Aware of the unruly crowds on the road, Ma Suu Kyi had been calling for calm and urging people not to create traffic jams and public disturbances.
TRAP LAID BY JUNTA
Now it seems the junta had carefully organised, but thuggish, crime against her. Some political dissidents believe the generals and hard-line cabined ministers in Rangoon deliberately planned to “trap” her and NLD supporters. Fear over her popularity and rising prodemocracy crowds clearly caused many sleepless nights for those who have illegally run the country for more than a decade.
Even before May 30’s climax, the junta was laying blame for the troubles on Ms Suu Kyi.
The junta has repeatedly accused Ms Suu Kyi and NLD supporters of creating traffic jams and public unrest. In response to the unruliness, they asked her to respect the democratic rights of the anti- NKD crowds who were protesting her visits.
Such a request is laughable considering May 30’s actions, which clearly indicate that the generals were the ones busy obstructing the democratic cause.
As further evidence, one need look no further than a recent report by Amnesty International. It said that Burma has continued to arrest and torture political dissidents despite the release of Ms Suu Kyi in May last year. Forced labour and extra-judicial killing of ethnic minority civilians continued to take place, the London based rights watchdog said in its report on Burma’s 2002 human rights record.
“Reports of torture of political prisoners during initial interrogation by the Military Intelligence continued to be received,” Amnesty said, adding that there political prisoners had died in custody during the year. “Extra-judicial executions continued to be reported in most of the seven ethnic minority states,” it added. Moreover, about 1,300 political prisoners remain incarcerated.
Recently, seven democracy activists in Rangoon received harsh prison terms. Two of them were sentenced to life imprisonment, one received 13 years and some of the others will be imprisoned for five years, say NLD officials.
Late last month, a court in the northern town of Monywa sentenced three men to two-year prison terms for saying publicly that “dictatorship does not exist in a democracy.” They were charged under a law that prohibits people from making a statement “likely to cause fear or alarm to the public.”
These are clear signs that the regime in Rangoon has no understanding of or commitment to Burma’s democratisation process. They have shown no willingness to open genuine political dialogue with Ms Suu Kyi. Only the regime’s PR atatements exhibit “complete trust” in her or a belief in national reconciliation.
Instead, one should listen to Ms Suu Kyi, who recently admitted there has been a regression, even though the two parties agreed to improve their relationship before her release last year. People must recognise that the generals remain earnest in their efforts to cripple opposition voices and intimidate the public with force.
The junta must release Ms Suu Kyi and her party members as quickly as possible so they can continue their political activities. More importantly, junta leaders must restore their credibility by engaging in political dialogue with Ms Suu Kyi. Dialogue between the regime and the NLD is the only answer to Burma’s political stalemate. This is no time to play games with the domestic and international community. Otherwise, devastation could be right around the corner.