Daily News- June 22- 2002- Saturday

  • Suu Kyi seeks changes sooner, not later
  • Myanmar junta releases NLD member of parliament-elect
  • Rebel Shans returns border bases to Myanmar
  • Suu Kyi tests waters with major political trip outside Yangon

  • Suu Kyi seeks changes sooner, not later

    LONDON (Reuters) June 21 - Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged the military junta in a recent interview to speed up democracy talks, although she voiced cautious optimism that change would eventually come.

    The 57-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner was released from 19 months of house arrest in early May and has said she wants substantive talks with generals who have ruled the Asian state, also known as Burma, for the last 40 years.

    ''There is so much that we need to do as a country,'' she told the Burma Campaign UK lobby group in an interview earlier this week in Myanmar, footage of which was obtained by Reuters on Saturday.

    ''I don't think we can afford to wait. Personally I don't think we can even afford to wait another day. Every day we wait for change means one day for us in efforts to rebuild our country.'' But she added: ''I am very hopeful that there will be political change within the next year or so.''

    Suu Kyi has said she expects the government to move eventually towards democracy and end the isolation that has left it a pariah on the world stage. But, having succumbed to international pressure to release Suu Kyi, the junta shows no signs of compromising politically and hundreds of political prisoners are said by critics to remain in detention.

    ''I am very concerned about that because the rate (of release of political prisoners) has been very, very slow,'' she said.

    Suu Kyi said international assistance should be targeted at raising the standard of living of ordinary people rather than boosting economic indicators like gross domestic product. She urged the European Union and United States to do more to support the move to democracy and bolster the economy.

    ''Of course we always think everybody could do a little bit more, if not a lot more -- a more active interest in what is happening, a better understanding of conditions in Burma,'' she said.

    Suu Kyi spoke of a recent trip outside the capital Yangon to the Karen and Mon states, the first in about two years. ''It was very interesting. I saw many aspects of the country which I needed to see in order that I might know what we needed to do,'' she told the interviewer.

    She also said she was surprised at young people's awareness of the need for political change. ''I was very touched, very pleased and at the same time rather saddened by how sensitive the young people are at the need to build up a future for their generation.''

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    Myanmar junta releases NLD member of parliament-elect

    YANGON, June 21 (AFP) - The Myanmar junta said Friday it had freed a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) who was voted into parliament in 1990 elections which the ruling military has never recognised.

    U Saw Oo Re, aged 74 and from Pharuso, Loikaw, was released from Loikaw Correctional Facility on Friday, the junta said in a statement.

    "On grounds of humanitarian consideration, he was released today while the authorities concerned will continue to assist his family in rendering necessary medical attention for him," the statement said."While serving his prison sentence, U Saw Oo Re has been taking medical treatment for hypertension and diabetes at Loikaw Civil Hospital, where he was also attended by his family," it said.

    Around 1,500 political prisoners are held in Myanmar jails, of which 800 are NLD members.Of those 800, 16 -- excluding the prisoner released Friday -- were elected as members of parliament in the 1990 elections.

    Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said procuring the release of all political prisoners is her party's top priority, following her own release from 19 months of house arrest on May 6.

    "Our primary objective at this point is to obtain the release of all political prisoners, not only of our party but also of others who are still in jail," she told a crowd during a visit to an NLD township office on May 24.

    More than 270 political prisoners have been released from the nation's jails since the military embarked on secret talks aimed at national reconciliation with Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000, one month after confining her to her lakeside home.A total of 53 NLD members have been freed since mid-February, when current UN human rights envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, visited Myanmar late last month and renewed calls for the junta to "release all political prisoners."

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    Rebel Shans returns border bases to Myanmar

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, June 21 (AFP) - The rebel Shan State Army (SSA) has withdrawn from border outposts captured from Myanmar troops near the Thai-Myanmar border a month ago, rebel sources said Friday.

    "The SSA have withdrawn its fighters from all mountainous positions near the Thai border captured last month to avoid direct confrontation with ethnic groups," SSA spokeswoman Nang Khur Hsen told AFP.She said that Myanmar's ruling military regime had ordered minority groups who have signed ceasefire agreements with Yangon to fight against the SSA.

    "Our enemy is the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council). We do not want to kill minority people as they are our brothers," SSA said.The SPDC is the official name of Myanmar's ruling military regime."Since the fighting began, we have said that we would eventually withdraw and that we did not intend to permanently hold onto the bases," she said, adding that the SSA wanted to destroy camps harbouring amphetamine and heroin production facilities.

    Thai villagers living along the Myanmar border told AFP that the Myanmar troops had yet to reclaim the bases."They are continuing shelling on mountain positions that were left empty by the Shans 12 hours ago," a village source said.

    Several hundred of the junta's troops died or were wounded during the offensive they launched on May 20 to recapture border outposts that were overrun by the rebels, the SSA spokeswoman said.Fourteen SSA fighters had been killed and 25 injured, she said.

    However, a Thai military observer estimated on June 9 that up to 100 Myanmar troops had by that stage been killed during fighting, while some 50 Shan fighters had been killed or injured.

    Meanwhile, Myanmar denied a report in the Thai press Friday that Thai troops were searching for physical evidence that Myanmar troops had been using chemical weapons against the SSA.

    "It is regretful that such routine, deliberate and ridiculous allegations made by such terrorist groups are given much attention and highlighted by the Thai media to create more harm to the bilateral relationship between Myanmar and Thailand," a junta spokesman said in a statement.

    The border clashes have prompted a serious deterioration in bilateral relations between the two countries, with Myanmar accusing Thailand of providing military support to the SSA.Thailand refutes the claim.The SSA is one of the few major armed insurgent groups in Myanmar yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta.

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    Suu Kyi tests waters with major political trip outside Yangon

    YANGON, June 22 (AFP) - Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi embarked Saturday on a major week-long political trip outside Yangon, the first of its kind since her May release from 19 months of house arrest, her National League for Democracy (NLD) said.

    The Nobel peace laureate left the city by car at 6.00am (2330 GMT Friday) to Magway, a town 450 kilometres (280 miles) to the north, where she was to hold a youth rally for party members, NLD spokesman U Lwin told AFP."Her final destination this time will be Mandalay," he added. "She will spend several days on the road."

    The opposition leader is due to arrive in the country's second largest city on June 27, accompanied by NLD bodyguards and party vice chairman U Tin Oo, before returning to the capital on June 29.

    "It is significant because it is the first trip that she is taking outside of Rangoon (Yangon) for political purposes," U Lwin said.

    The trip has added prominence as Mandalay was the city to which Aung San Suu Kyi had attempted to travel in 2000 when she was placed under house arrest.

    Aung San Suu Kyi, 57, was also due Saturday to travel to Natmauk, near the famed temples of Pagan, to visit the birthplace of her father, Myanmar independence hero Aung San who was assassinated in 1947.

    U Lwin said Aung San Suu Kyi had informed the authorities about her trip.Last Friday Aung San Suu Kyi traveled outside the capital for the first time since her release, and visited a revered Buddhist monk at his monastery 320 kilometres (200 miles) south of Yangon.Her party and family sources said she conducted no political activities there as the trip was strictly religious.

    Since being released from house arrest on May 6 she has mainly visited the township offices of her NLD, making active efforts to reinvigorate the party which has suffered from years of repression since it won a landslide election victory in 1990, but which the junta refused to recognise.During the brief excursions she has called for the release of all political prisoners in the country and for citizens to "persevere" in their fight for democracy.

    Observers have said a trip outside of the capital would be the true test of the regime's commitment to allow her freedom of movement.Aung San Suu Kyi's second period of house arrest -- the first lasted from 1989 to 1995 -- was imposed in September 2000 after she made several attempts to leave Yangon on party business.Her attempt to travel to the township of Kawhmu, which defied an order confining her to Yangon, culminated in a nine-day standoff.When she again attempted to travel, this time to northern Mandalay on party business, the junta escorted her home before placing her under house arrest.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has said the military regime has not placed any conditions on her release this time and that she is free to travel wherever she wishes.Following her May release she told reporters she intended to travel around Myanmar -- and even abroad.Since October 2000 the charismatic leader had been engaged in secret talks with the junta brokered by the United Nations.

    But following her release she has been largely ignored by the regime and has met no senior generals, a sign the historic discussions aimed at national reconciliation have stalled.

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