Friday, May 25, 2007

Myanmar extends house arrest for Suu Kyi

By AYE AYE WIN, Associated Press Writer

10 minutes ago

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military government on Friday extended the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for another year, defying an outpouring of international appeals for the Nobel Peace Prize winner's freedom.

The 60-year-old Suu Kyi has spent more than 11 of the past 17 years in detention. She has been continually detained for the past four years, spending most of it confined to her residence in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.

Her current one-year detention order was due to expire Sunday and the extension had been widely expected despite calls by international groups and world leaders for Suu Kyi's freedom.

The government's action was not officially announced but was privately confirmed by security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the matter's sensitivity.

The United Nations, the European Union and the U.S. government all repeated their previous calls for the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, as well as for moves toward democracy in Myanmar.

The first sign of the extension came when neighbors saw a silver-gray Toyota with tinted windows enter Suu Kyi's compound at 3:55 p.m. They were assumed to be government officials because she is allowed no visitors. They stayed for about 10 minutes.

One official confirmed that the car carried officials who presented Suu Kyi with a new detention order. The detention order takes effect when it is read to the person concerned. The official asked that neither he nor his agency, which is concerned with security affairs, be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Suu Kyi, the head of Myanmar's National League for Democracy party and daughter of Myanmar's martyred founding father, has been held continuously since May 30, 2003, when her motorcade was attacked by a pro-junta mob during a political tour of northern Myanmar. The government considers her a threat to public order and she is not allowed any telephone contact with the outside.

The junta took power in 1988 after crushing pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar, then known as Burma. It refused to hand over power when, on May 27, 1990, Suu Kyi's party won a general election by a landslide, insisting the country first needed a new constitution. Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

The military has continued to rule while persecuting members of the pro-democracy movement.

Worldwide supporters of Suu Kyi expressed disappointment — but not surprise — at her continued detention.

In Washington, the White House sharply criticized the junta.

"The United States condemns the generals ... for the extension of the house arrest of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for President Bush's National Security Council.

"The regime's unjustified, continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and the repression of other democratic activists must end," he said.

The Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), called the junta's decision inexcusable.

"Nothing more clearly reflects the predatory nature of this regime than its keeping this heroic Nobel Prize laureate under house arrest," he said in a statement. "It also demonstrates that more pressure rather than less needs to be exerted on this regime by the international community."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "deeply regrets" the government's decision to extend Suu Kyi's detention "despite his direct appeal to Myanmar's senior leadership and the many public calls worldwide for her release," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.

"He strongly believes that the sooner restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Myanmar will be able to move toward inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights," Montas said.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N.'s human rights expert for Myanmar, criticized the junta as well for refusing humanitarian appeals concerning prisoners serving sentences as long as 70 years.

"They say they are moving ahead, but they continue to hold 1,200 political prisoners, including the main members of the opposition," he told The Associated Press by telephone from Cape Town, South Africa.

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said it "deeply condemns" the junta's decision.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's party, said the organization had not yet been able to confirm the decision. "However, if the detention is extended despite demands by the international community, this is a very uncivilized action," he said.

The military rulers have given no sign they intend to free Suu Kyi.

"We don't see any indication of her release despite demands from world leaders and unprecedented activity within the country," Mya Aye, a prominent member of Myanmar's 88 Generation Students' Group, said before Suu Kyi's extended detention was confirmed.

The 88 Generation group — named after the year in which the military brutally suppressed democracy protests — has in the past year picked up the mantle of opposition activism from Suu Kyi's party, which has become moribund in her absence.

In Thailand, home to many Myanmar exiles, a spokesman for a prominent opposition group denounced the new detention order.

"It's a very unlawful decision by the generals, so we are very frustrated. She is not a criminal and not a threat to national security," said Zin Linn of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, a self-styled government-in-exile.


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