[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Burma update
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Wed Sep 10 05:18:39 BST 2008
Locked in Burma
SIMON TISDALL: ANALYSIS - Sep 09 2008 06:00
It is hard to imagine what life must be like for Aung San Suu Kyi,
locked up inside her Rangoon home, separated from her children, denied
visitors, her phone line cut, her mail intercepted.
Burma's opposition leader, whose 1990 election victory was annulled by
the military, is now in her 13th year of detention. She has been held
continually since 2003. In June, she spent her 63rd birthday alone.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Suu Kyi, who has suffered health problems in
the past, is unwell again. Her lawyer, Kyi Win, who was allowed to see
her last month, quoted her as saying: "I am tired and I need some rest."
Following her refusal of a food delivery, there is also speculation the
pro-democracy campaigner has begun a hunger strike. Her lawyer said her
weight had fallen below the 44kg she weighed in 2003.
While uncertainty surrounds Suu Kyi's plight, there is nothing at all
ambiguous about Burma's political, social and human rights situation one
year after the junta brutally suppressed the Buddhist-monk-led "saffron
revolution". By almost any measure, it is distinctly worse. Last May's
Cyclone Nargis disaster played its part. But most of the deterioration
Despite last year's international condemnation and impassioned calls for
action, the junta continues to hold more than 2 000 political prisoners,
including leaders of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) such
as U Win Tin, in jail since 1989. UN attempts to foster political reform
have got nowhere. And trade sanctions imposed by the United States and
the European Union are being undermined by the generals' energy deals
with China, Thailand and India. Oil and gas sales topped $3,3-billion
According to Benjamin Zawacki of Amnesty International, half a million
people are internally displaced. He said the army is continuing
"systematic" rights violations against Karen and other ethnic minorities
including "extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances,
arbitrary arrests, forced labour, crop destruction [and] restrictions of
Amid some of the worst poverty, health problems and corruption in the
world, many people have only one wish: escape. Even long-suffering
Zimbabweans can flee across a border. But the Burmese are locked in,
held down by their rulers and not wanted in India, China or Thailand.
With a population of more than 50-million, Burma has become the world's
biggest prison camp.
"The UN mission has been a complete failure," said Mark Farmaner,
director of Burma Campaign UK. Since Ibrahim Gambari, a former Nigerian
foreign minister, was appointed special envoy in May 2006, the number of
political prisoners had doubled, ethnic cleansing in eastern Burma had
intensified, and humanitarian aid for Cyclone Nargis victims was
blocked, he said.
"There has been a massive deterioration in the human rights situation.
But during Gambari's last two visits no senior member of the regime
bothered to see him," Farmaner said.
"He is seen as biased towards the regime and we think he should resign.
He no longer has the respect or confidence of either side."
Criticism of Gambari was also voiced by the NLD. It said his visits, the
last of which ended on August 23, had produced "no positive
developments". The party said the UN envoy's offer to help the junta
organise elections in 2010 under a new Constitution, which the
opposition rejects, had undermined his independence. For her part, ill
or not, Suu Kyi twice refused to meet Gambari.
Farmaner said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, should take
personal charge before the country exploded again. He is due to visit
Burma in December.
"The UN needs to set timelines and benchmarks which the junta must meet.
The first benchmark should be the release of all political prisoners,"
"There is an increasing sense of desperation," Farmaner said. "People
were very depressed after the uprising, very frightened. But there was
hope that Gambari would do something. Now that hope has gone and there
is even more repression than before. At the moment, the fear is stronger
than the anger. But that could change." -- © Guardian News & Media Ltd 2008
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