Obama to Junta: Release Suu Kyi

Irrawaddy news, May 27, 2009

WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama on Tuesday called on the Burmese military government to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi unconditionally.

“It is time for the Burmese government to drop all charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and unconditionally release her and her fellow political prisoners,” Obama said, adding that by her actions, “Aung San Suu Kyi has represented profound patriotism, sacrifice and the vision of a democratic and prosperous Burma.”

US President Barack Obama exits Air Force one upon arrival at McCarran International Airport, on May 26, in Las Vegas. (Photo: AP)

“Such an action would be an affirmative and significant step on Burma’s part to begin to restore its standing in the eyes of the United States and the world community and to move toward a better future for its people,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

“I call on the Burmese government to release National League for Democracy secretary general and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from detention immediately and unconditionally,” he said.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued opinions this week affirming that the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, dating back to 2003, is arbitrary, unjustified and in contravention of Burma’s own law. The UN Security Council reaffirmed on May 22 its concern about Suu Kyi in a statement and called for the release of all political prisoners, Obama noted.

Obama said Suu Kyi’s continued detention, isolation and show trial based on spurious charges cast serious doubt on the Burmese regime’s willingness to be a responsible member of the international community. 

“This is an important opportunity for the government in Burma to demonstrate that it respects its own laws and its own people, is ready to work with the National League for Democracy and other ethnic and opposition groups, and is prepared to move toward reconciliation,” he said.

 Meanwhile, The Elders—a group of eminent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela —on Tuesday repeated its call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as her latest six-year period of house arrest is due to expire on May 27.

The chair of The Elders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said: “Despite the latest efforts to exclude and silence our sister Aung San Suu Kyi, she remains a symbol of hope for her nation and the world.”

Former US President Jimmy Carter said Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero for those who believe in human rights and democracy. “Her ongoing detention is a further reflection on the integrity of the government,” he said.

The Elders are currently meeting in Morocco and have kept an empty chair for Aung San Suu Kyi, as they always do. Their discussions covered a range of global issues, including events in Burma. They also urged Asean countries in particular to make it clear to Myanmar’s leaders that their current actions are jeopardizing the legitimacy of elections due in 2010 and the results will not be recognized unless minimum conditions are met.

The conditions are release of all political prisoners, an inclusive national process to review the 2008 constitution and participation by the NLD and other parties in the 2010 election. International observers must also be allowed to supervise the 2010 poll, they said.

UN Receives Petition with 600,000 Signatures
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 
A petition with 600,000 signatures in support of the release of all political prisoners in Burma has been sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, accordingly to the
Campaign Committee of the Free Burma’s Political Prisoners (CCFBPP).

The signatures were gathered from more than 150 countries and by more than 200 groups in support of Burma over a 10-week period.

The CCFBPP held a press conference in Bangkok on Tuesday to announce the petition, on this the seventh day of the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese military government. 

International condemnation of the trial has been widespread, including unprecedented criticism from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The petition campaign has been led by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP) and the Forum for Democracy in Burma, representing former political prisoners and pro-democracy activists. 

Since October 2008, more than 350 Burmese political activists have been sentenced to harsh sentences of up to 104 years. Burma now has 2,100 political prisoners, according to the AAPP.

Bo Kyi, a co-founder and joint-secretary of the AAPP, said, “We intend to urge the secretary-general to take more measures in the Security Council. It’s time for the international community and for the Burmese people to demand more from the UN.”    

A broad-based consortium of Burmese exiles and solidarity groups around the world worked to secure the petition signatures, including Avaaz, an online community of activists.

Avaaz executive director Ricken Patel said, “Aung San Suu Kyi is Burma’s Nelson Mandela. The UN secretary-general must insist that her release be the condition for any further international engagement with the Burmese junta.”

Since the campaign launched on March 13, commemorating Burma’s Human Rights Day, one person has signed the petition every 10 seconds.

More Asean MPs Call for Suu Kyi’s Release
May 29, 2009
KUALA LUMPUR—Support for Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has stepped up with about 100 more parliamentarians from Southeast Asian countries adding their voices to the growing international calls for her release.

Two Members of Parliament (MPs) from Singapore, Charles Chong and Inderjit Singh, on Friday called for the suspension of Burma from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) due to the Burmese junta’s disregard for Asean’s concerns over Suu Kyi.

Asean diplomat sources confirmed to The Irrawaddy that leading members of the regional bloc such as Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines are seriously considering suspending Burma’s membership if the junta extends Suu Kyi’s detention or sentences her to prison on trumped-up charges.

In Malaysia, 30 MPs on Tuesday joined half a million other signatories on a petition organized by an umbrella group called “Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now!” Among the politicians was Malaysian opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“Before May 26, only three MPs had signed the petition calling for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 political prisoners in Burma,” said Ye Min Htun, a Burmese activist based in Kuala Lumpur. “But now, 30 MPs have joined the campaign. I am very surprised.”

However, observers have pointed out that most signatories were from opposition parties and not from the ruling National Front coalition led by new Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Aegile Fernandez, the program coordinator of Tenaganita, a well-known Malaysian human rights group, said that Malaysians are concerned about Suu Kyi’s incarceration.
She added that more politicians from the ruling party in Malaysia should show solidarity with Suu Kyi.

In the Philippines, 32 MPs called for a Filipino government resolution on May 21 denouncing her trial in Rangoon and demanding the Burmese military government release Suu Kyi.

Among the new members of Asean, 29 Cambodian MPs voiced their concern by sending a letter of protest this week to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which was held in the Cambodian capital on May 27-28.

According to the BBC, during the Asem in Phnom Penh this week, Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint remarked to British Junior Foreign Minister Bill Rammell that “we [the Burmese junta] are not the enemy.” In reply, the British minister reportedly said that although the European Union and Burma are not enemies, they wanted to see freedom for Suu Kyi and positive changes in the country.

Analysts said the Burmese regime’s latest attempt to detain Suu Kyi presents a critical challenge to Asean, which has only recently implemented its first constitution, called the “Asean Charter.”

As the current chairman of Asean, Thailand called on May 19 for the immediate release of Suu Kyi. In a statement on behalf of Asean, the Thai government said it was ready to help with national reconciliation and democracy efforts in Burma.

The Burmese regime responded through its state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, saying, “Alternate Asean Chairman Thailand’s statement [sic] which is not in conformity with Asean practice, [is] incorrect in facts, [and is] interfering in [Burmese] internal affairs.”

However, a source close to Thailand’s foreign ministry said that although non-interference in internal affairs is one of Asean’s basic principles, members have the “collected responsibility” for issues in the region under the Asean charter and Thailand’s statement reflected the “collected responsibility.”  

In Phnom Penh, Asean members voiced their support for the Asean chairman’s statement on Burma.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, an editor at Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper, said that Burmese issues are now becoming problematic to the Asean Charter. If Asean cannot handle the issues the charter will be meaningless, he said.

Vietnam will take over the Asean chairmanship next year. Analysts say Asean could be expected to tone down its criticism of Burma under a Vietnamese chairmanship.

Asem Foreign Ministers Issue Statement on Suu Kyi
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 
Asian and European Union foreign ministers concluded a two-day meeting in Hanoi on Tuesday with a statement calling on Burma’s junta to release detained political prisoners, as international pressure mounts on the regime over its trial and detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“In light of the concern about the recent developments relating to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, ministers … called for the early release of those under detention and the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties,” said the chair’s statement issued at the end of the annual Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) of foreign ministers from the two regions.

Asem groups the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) with the EU, China, South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Pakistan and India. Burma is a member of Asean.

According to reports from Hanoi, the statement also reaffirmed the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of Myanmar [Burma]” and stated that the “future of Myanmar lies in the hands of all its people.”

In their statement, the foreign ministers called on Burma to prepare for and conduct elections scheduled for next year “in a free and fair manner.”

They also encouraged the government to engage “all stakeholders in an inclusive process in order to achieve national reconciliation and economic and social development,” and called on the international community to increase humanitarian assistance to Burma.

The statement came a day after Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win met with his counterparts from Sweden, the Czech Republic and Japan.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the rotating chair of the EU, pressed for Suu Kyi’s release in his talks with Nyan Win.

Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone also raised the issue of Suu Kyi’s treatment during the meeting.

According to a Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson, Nakasone stressed that this is “a very important period for Myanmar’s democratization” and that the junta should “respond in an appropriate manner to the voices of the international community.”

Nyan Win declined to make any comment.

The Burma issue will be at the top of the agenda of the Asean-EU meeting in Phnom Penh on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Asem foreign ministers also condemned North Korea’s second nuclear test, urging Pyongyang to refrain from future tests and calling on the country to return to the Six-Party Talks process.


Indian Human Rights Activists Support Suu Kyi
Thursday, May 28, 2009 

Indian politicians, human rights activists, religious leaders and artists have appealed to the international community for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and criticized the Indian government for its silence over the trial of the Burmese democracy leader.

A conference was held in the Constitution Club in New Delhi on Wednesday to show the Indian people’s solidarity with the people of Burma and Suu Kyi, who is now on trial accussed of violating the terms of her house arrest.

At the conference, G. Devarajan, the secretary of the Central Committee of All India Forward Bloc, Nandita Das, an Indian actress and social activist, the former Samata Party President Jaya Jaitley, former Defence Minister George Fernandez, Sumit Chakravartty, the editor of Mainstream weekly, film director Amar Kanwar and other Indian artists called for the government to pressure the junta for the early release of Suu Kyi and to take proactive actions against the Burmese junta.

G. Devarajan said he was not optimistic that Indian politicians would respond to their call. A statement urged the government to break its silence and call for the immediate and unconditional release of Suu Kyi and express their concern about recent political developments in Burma.

Meanwhile, an Indo-Burma Solidarity meeting at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, organized by the South Asian Forum for Peoples’ Initiative, was also held in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United) party and a member of parliament from Bihar State in the Upper House said he supported the international community’s call for the release of  Suu Kyi.

Dr. Tint Swe, the Information Minister of the Burmese government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that, “India is only focused on economic interests with the Burmese military regime. Now India neglects its responsibility toward democracy. We don’t expect too much criticism or changes. There is a little chance because the Indian government has done a U-turn in the support for the democracy movement in Burma ever since Rajiv Gandhi.”

Lenin Raghuvanshi, an Indian activist and director of the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, a grassroots human rights advocacy group based in India’s Uttar Pradesh, said Suu Kyi’s arrest “will have very serious repercussions for the democracy movement in Burma,” calling it a “blatant violation” of human rights.

He said India was wrong to remain silent on Suu Kyi’s trial in Insein Prison, noting that she was the recipient of India’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding.

He urged “India, China and other neighbors of Burma to oppose the military dictatorship and support the non-violent struggle for democracy. It is essential for the region to eliminate the atmosphere of terror perpetrated by the military.”

“It is a moral issue for Burma’s big trading neighbors, who on the one hand support, tacitly or otherwise, the military regime in Burma, while on the other opposing terrorism,” he said.

India, which supported the UN position on Burma in the wake of 2007’s Saffron Revolution, has made no public criticism of the ongoing trial.

Sajan George, the chairman of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), appealed to the Indian government to “condemn the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi” and called for her        “immediate release.”

He expressed the hope that she might celebrate her birthday on June 19 as a “free citizen of Burma.”
Father Anthony, a Jesuit priest in Madurai (Tamil Nadu), said there is no “freedom of movement” in Burma and “torture of dissidents and political opponents is commonplace.”

In recent years, India and Burma have increased bilateral trade and agreed on several major development projects, including Sittwe port and a Kaladan River project.

In 1994, India introduced a “Look East Policy” which is designed to work with Burma’s military regime on economic projects.




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