Daily News- May 01- 2002- Wednesday

  • US Says Any Suu Kyi Release Must Be Unconditional
  • Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi to be released in next few days: source
  • Suu Kyi To Be Released Soon: Reports
  • Rights activists cautious on Myanmar release rumor
  • Junta's claim rejected by thai army chief
  • Hopes high for Suu Kyi release
  • All eyes on Aung San Suu Kyi's house as release awaited
  • Burma's Suu Kyi taken for secret meeting-military


  • US Says Any Suu Kyi Release Must Be Unconditional

    By Elaine Monaghan

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States responded cautiously on Tuesday to speculation that Myanmar's military rulers were about to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying her release should be unconditional.

    "We would welcome the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners inside Burma," a State Department spokesman said. "It is important that the release be unconditional and that Aung San Suu Kyi be afforded full freedom of movement and association."

    Human rights activists responded similarly to talk in Myanmar's capital Yangon that the charismatic daughter of assassinated independence hero Aung San was set to be freed from 18 months of house arrest after a deal with the ruling junta.

    "The international community shouldn't rush to declare victory simply because she's released," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. He said there were major questions to be considered, including whether the junta was "expanding the cage or getting rid of the cage" imposed on the 56-year-old Nobel laureate.

    "Will she have the freedom to travel throughout the country? Will her party have freedom to operate as a legal political party?" he asked.

    The State Department spokesman clearly shared his caution, saying, "We hope the reports out of Rangoon indicate the Burmese regime is serious about political reform and national reconciliation."

    Suu Kyi was held under house arrest from 1989 to 1995. She was placed back under house arrest in 2000 after she embarrassed the government with several high-profile attempts to challenge travel restrictions that confined her to Yangon. Her National League for Democracy won Myanmar's last election in 1990 by a landslide, but the military government refused to hand over power. Myanmar has faced international isolation and economic sanctions over its human rights record and its treatment of Suu Kyi and the NLD.

    SANCTIONS TO BE LIFTED?

    The State Department spokesman had no comment on the likelihood, if Suu Kyi were freed from house arrest, of U.S. sanctions being lifted. They include an arms embargo, investment ban, suspension of bilateral aid, visa restrictions on top leaders and a freeze on new lending and grant programs by international agencies.

    The United States said in February that it would consider lifting sanctions in return for what it called "significant progress" in talks with Suu Kyi, including her release. The State Department was critical of slow progress in the long-running talks and held out the prospect of lifting sanctions for concrete measures by the generals.

    "Our goal in applying these sanctions is to encourage a transition to democratic rule and greater respect for human rights," the report said. "Should there be significant progress toward these goals, the United States would look seriously at measures to support a process of constructive change."

    Suu Kyi's release is widely regarded as the single most important step the junta could take to show the increasingly impatient international community it is considering political change. She has been kept confined to her lakeside Yangon residence since September 2000. A source close to the junta told Reuters in Yangon the government was set to announce the release of Suu Kyi and a deal under which she would cooperate with the junta in administering humanitarian work in fields such as health and education.

    Malinowski, who worked on U.S. policy toward Myanmar in the administration of former President Bill Clinton, said developments must be "kept in perspective" and that it was important to remember she had been arrested and freed before. "I think the key is what is the nature of the freedom that they give her if indeed she is released," he said.

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    Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi to be released in next few days: source

    YANGON, April 30 (AFP) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for the past 18 months, will be released "within a day or two", a government source said Tuesday.

    United Nations envoy to Myanmar Razali Ismail, who made a four-day visit to Myanmar last week, hinted in Kuala Lumpur earlier Tuesday that Aung San Suu Kyi's release could be imminent.

    As a delegation of media and diplomats waited in anticipation outside her house, the government source said the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader would not be given her liberty on Tuesday.

    "The NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not be released today. The government is making arrangements to release her from house detention within a day or two, " he told AFP."If released from house detention, she will be able to go any place she likes as before," he said, declining to elaborate.

    However, Aung San Suu Kyi was in fact strictly forbidden to leave Yangon, and the house arrest restrictions were laid down in September 2000 after she attempted to defy the ban and travel to the northern city of Mandalay.

    Diplomats and analysts believe a release this week would signal that the junta and the opposition leader have forged an agreement on how Aung San Suu Kyi will be permitted to operate as leader of the NLD.

    "She has always asked that if she were to be released she doesn't go back to her conditions between 1995 and 2000 when she didn't have the right to leave Yangon," said one source."But this unlimited movement for her could happen gradually and it's very possible she could use quite a lot of self-restraint."

    Apart from the release, the international community is watching for a highly anticipated statement on the progress and content of the secret national reconciliation talks.Aung San Suu Kyi's release, they believe, would signify that the process is at a stage where both sides are confident it can withstand public scrutiny, heightening the prospect of an end to four decades of military rule.

    A release would be credited squarely to the efforts of Razali, who brokered landmark talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta which began in October 2000 and are aimed at introducing democratic reforms.

    "This would be a goodwill gesture for the international community. It's a result of Razali's visit, and it's part of the continuum of the dialogue process," the source said.

    Myanmar observers spent Tuesday watching closely for signs of a release, particularly as major announcements are typically made ahead of important holidays, like Wednesday's May Day celebrations.

    A high-ranking Myanmar junta official made a rare visit to Aung San Suu Kyi's lakeside home Tuesday morning, heightening speculation she would soon be freed.Brigadier-General Than Tun, the official liaison officer between the opposition leader and the regime, spent 10 minutes at the University Drive residence, in his first visit for several months.Than Tun, the head of the political department of the defence ministry, does not see Aung San Suu Kyi on a regular basis, but typically only when there is a matter that needs to be attended to.The two are known to have a friendly working relationship, and for many years he has been charged with acting as her official government escort at important events and national celebrations.

    Analysts say the notoriously secretive junta is likely to go to great lengths to ensure a release remains low-key, as they are terrified adoring crowds will rush to the lakeside villa to greet her.Despite the regime's dogged efforts over the years to demonise and vilify the democracy leader, she commands immense support and loyalty among ordinary Myanmar citizens.

    For the last 18 months the street that runs past her home -- normally a busy thoroughfare -- has been closed off to traffic and barbed-wire barricades erected to prevent unauthorised access.However, on Tuesday road crews were seen patching up potholes and generally neatening up the area, in apparent readiness for her to be freed.

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    Suu Kyi To Be Released Soon: Reports

    By Aung Zaw
    The Irrawaddy

    April 30, 2002- Expectations are high in Rangoon that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be released very soon, according to well-informed sources in the Burmese capital. But they added that Suu Kyiís release after 18 months under de facto house arrest could pose new problems, both for her and for the regime that has repeatedly restricted her freedom.

    "She has to be very careful," said one Burmese observer in Rangoon. "Her release wonít be unconditional. There will be agreements between her and her captors," he added.

    At the same time as she is avoiding a confrontation with the regime, however, Suu Kyiís supporters will be expecting her to make some sort of statement on the progress of her talks with the ruling military regime. "There are high expectations from her party, from the Burmese people, and from the international community," remarked Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst living in exile.

    It is unlikely that Suu Kyi will reveal anything about the substance of her secret talks with the regime unless the generals agree. "It would be good if Aung San Suu Kyi and the government can officially announce the timeframe for substantive dialogue," added Aung Naing Oo.

    Meanwhile, in Rangoon, diplomats and journalists for international wire services are waiting in front of Suu Kyiís house in anticipation of her imminent release. They have sought confirmation of rumors that the release could come today, but say that officials remain tight-lipped.

    One veteran journalist in Rangoon suggested that Suu Kyi has softened her stance on economic sanctions since holding a secret meeting with Sr-Gen Than Shwe in January. According to the Asian Wall Street Journal, Gen David Abel, minister for the Prime Ministerís Office, confirmed that the meeting took place. "After that meeting there has been a lot of optimism from all quarters that there could be a breakthrough," Abel was reported as saying. The generals in attendance were especially heartened by Suu Kyiís expressions of concern about the countryís deteriorating economic situation, which they took as signaling a willingness to end her calls for sanctions.

    During a recent meeting with a visiting EU Troika delegation, Suu Kyi was reportedly very careful about answering questions about economic sanctions, according to a well-informed source.

    "I think when she is released this time, she is going to be passive," predicted one observer who is close to the situation. That will not go down well with some activists who want to see radical changes and impose stronger sanctions against the military dictatorship.

    After her release, Suu Kyiís focus will be on the release of political prisoners, rebuilding her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and working on the confidence-building process, predicted one veteran analyst in Rangoon.Some observers warned that even if she is released, Suu Kyi is likely to remain under constant scrutiny from the generals, who fear that she may resume calls for more international pressure.

    When she was released from house arrest in 1995, Suu Kyi urged international donors to continue with their economic sanctions until the regime made more substantive concessions. The United States subsequently imposed a ban on new investment in 1997. The generals donít want that to happen again. If it does, it could derail the on-going confidence-building process, warned some Burmese observers.

    According to some Western diplomats, a more likely scenario this time is that Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders might agree to the resumption of limited humanitarian assistance to Burma, while continuing to demand further political reforms.

    For its part, the junta may be hoping that the resumption of aid will help ease internal tensions over hardlinersí opposition to dealing with the NLD. Top leaders reportedly told visiting foreign delegates recently that they want to see if Suu Kyi will keep her promise not to oppose aid so that they can "sell" the talks to military officers who are reluctant to deal with the opposition.

    Despite the doubts, some in Rangoon are sanguine about the prospects for further progress. "I think the climate is good for the national reconciliation process," remarked one Burmese observer.But skepticism about the generalsí motives persists. "By releasing Suu Kyi, they will win praise, but there are no promises that they will go any further to achieve genuine national reconciliation," said one political analyst in Rangoon. "This government is always cautious-they go step by step," said another observer. "They will wait to see how others react. If the reactions are good, they will take further steps." As always in Burmese politics, patience may be the wisest counsel. "It will be a very, very slow process," said one long-time observer. "Donít expect anything dramatic."

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    Rights activists cautious on Myanmar release rumor

    WASHINGTON, April 30 - Human rights activists reacted cautiously on Tuesday to speculation Myanmar's military rulers might free pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after 18 months under house arrest.

    ''The international community shouldn't rush to declare victory simply because she's released,'' said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. He said there were major questions to be considered, including whether the junta in the capital. Yangon, was ''expanding the cage or getting rid of the cage'' imposed on the 56-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, he said.

    ''Will she have the freedom to travel throughout the country? Will her party have freedom to operate as a legal political party?''

    Myanmar was abuzz with speculation on Tuesday that Suu Kyi, the charismatic daughter of assassinated independence hero Aung San, was set to be freed following a deal with the ruling junta. Her release is widely regarded as the single most important step the junta could take to show the increasingly impatient international community it is considering political change. She has been kept confined to her lakeside Yangon residence, with her telephone line cut, since September 2000.

    A source close to the ruling junta told Reuters the government was set to announce the release of Suu Kyi and a deal under which she would cooperate with the junta in administering humanitarian work in fields such as health and education. Razali Ismail, the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, ended a four-day visit to the country on Friday, saying he expected a breakthrough soon in the peace process. On Tuesday, he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the expected major announcement could include the release of political prisoners or further freedom for political activities.

    Malinowski, who worked on U.S. policy toward Myanmar in the administration of former President Bill Clinton, said developments must be ''kept in perspective'' and that it was important to remember that Suu Kyi had been arrested and released before. ''I think the key is what is the nature of the freedom that they give her if indeed she is released,'' he said.

    Suu Kyi was held under house arrest from 1989 to 1995. She was placed back under house arrest in 2000 after she embarrassed the government with several high-profile attempts to challenge travel restrictions that confined her to Yangon. Her National League for Democracy won Myanmar's last election in 1990 by a landslide, but the military government refused to hand over power. Myanmar has faced international isolation and economic sanctions over its human rights record and its treatment of Suu Kyi and the NLD.

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    Junta's claim rejected by thai army chief

    By Wassana Nanuam Subin Khuenkaew
    The Bangkokpost

    The army commander has strongly rejected claims by the Burmese military junta that elements inside the Thai army are trying to stir up border tension.No Thai soldiers had any intention of causing trouble between Thailand and Burma, Gen Surayud Chulanont said yesterday.

    Rangoon has claimed elements in the Thai military do not want relations between the two neighbours to improve and are trying to subvert the government's policy to foster ties with Burma.Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has asked the military to be lenient in dealing with unintentional border crossings by Burmese troops and their allies, except when it involves drug trafficking.

    Gen Surayud yesterday insisted two United Wa State Army (UWSA) fighters were arrested on Friday because they had crossed into Thailand illegally, not because the military wanted to create conflict with Burma.Army sources said earlier the two were Muser tribesmen and believed to be scouts for Wa drug traffickers. One was the son of a senior Wa officer.

    ``An initial report confirmed that both Wa men entered Thai territory to gather intelligence,'' Gen Surayud said. ``However, we still do not know what they wanted to find out.''All border encroachers, especially those bearing arms, must be held for questioning under any circumstances, the army chief said.Arrested suspects would be freed within 15 days if they had nothing to do with drugs or other illegal activities.

    He said the military had no option but to retaliate when about 10 armed foreign troops demanded the return of the arrested Wa fighters and then injured some Thai rangers.Claims that the two Wa men had crossed into Thailand to get water from a stream did not stand up because there were adequate water sources on the Burmese side of the border.

    Gen Surayud said the army had informed the Thai-Burmese Border Committee the two Wa guerrillas would be held for questioning and released if they had not violated any rules.A defence source said Burmese military leader Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt had said in a letter to Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh that the two Wa men were collecting water near the border, but had not crossed into Thailand.The Supreme Command had set up an inquiry, the source said.

    A close aide to Wei Hsueh-ying, in charge of the UWSA's 171st division controlled by his elder brother and drug kingpin Wei Hsueh-kang, said the division sent six Wa soldiers to negotiate with Thai troops for the release of the two arrested Wa men on Friday.The aide, Ah Kuang, also denied the UWSA opened fire on a Thai military base, claiming the attackers could have been from the Shan State Army, which had a stronghold nearby.He said UWSA troops withdrew from their base opposite Ban Pong Hai on the order of Rangoon after a Thai air raid caused casualties and extensive damage.``Two Thai gunship helicopters took off and shot up our stronghold, killing and injuring some people. We have not collected the bodies yet, but we have taken out the injured,'' Ah Kuang said.

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    Hopes high for Suu Kyi release

    YANGON, April 30 - Expectations that Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will soon be released from house arrest grew on Wednesday as the United States and human rights groups said her freedom should be unconditional.

    The 56-year-old Nobel peace laureate's lakeside compound in Yangon, where she has been confined for more than 18 months, has become the focus of a flurry of official and media activity, amid signs the junta is preparing to set her free.

    Suu Kyi's release is among the top demands of the international community seeking movement in long-running reconciliation talks between the junta and opposition aimed at bringing democracy to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

    She has been confined to her residence with her telephone line cut since September 2000. Suu Kyi's three top lieutenants -- National League for Democracy (NLD) Chairman Aung Shwe, Vice-Chairman Tin Oo and Secretary U Lwin -- were seen entering her compound late on Wednesday afternoon.

    Foreign diplomats staking out Suu Kyi's home said a top military officer liaising between her and the junta visited her home on Tuesday evening, for the third time that day.

    Sources close to the military and Suu Kyi's NLD said it was unusual for Brigadier-General Than Tun to visit three times in one day. ''Anything could happen any time,'' an official from the government spokesman's office told Reuters on condition of anonymity. ''There is some speculation about her (Suu Kyi's) release, but we have no comment at the moment.''

    State media were silent on Suu Kyi's fate on Wednesday and a ''No Entry'' sign and barrier remained at the entrance to the popular opposition leader's home on University Avenue, guarded by plainclothes police.

    Witnesses said municipal workers were cleaning the street and filling potholes outside her home, the first such work since the busy street was closed in 2000 and barricaded with barbed wire. The government has also uncharacteristically granted entry visas to a slew of foreign media organisations this week, a sign it may be seeking publicity for a major gesture.

    ''SOMETHING BIG''

    Without some kind of cooperation deal Suu Kyi's release would mean little, one veteran politician said. ''The release of Aung San Suu Kyi...alone will not make much difference if the NLD and the military do not reach any agreement on future cooperation,'' a retired Myanmar politician told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

    Razali Ismail, the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, ended a four-day visit to the country last week saying he expected a breakthrough soon. ''The one (gesture) that everyone expects is the release of Aung San Suu Kyi,'' the Malaysian diplomat said. ''Be patient. I think something big will happen,'' he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

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    All eyes on Aung San Suu Kyi's house as release awaited

    YANGON, May 1 (AFP) - All eyes were Wednesday on the lakeside residence of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is expected to emerge from house arrest soon to what many hope will be a new era of democratic reform in military-ruled Myanmar.

    A delegation of foreign and local media was gathered on the road leading to the white-washed villa on University Drive, in anticipation that the 18-month-old restrictions will be lifted shortly.A government source told AFP Tuesday that arrangements were being made for the Nobel peace laureate to be freed "within a day or two".

    United Nations envoy to Myanmar Razali Ismail, who made a four-day visit to Myanmar last week, also hinted in Kuala Lumpur that Aung San Suu Kyi's release could be imminent.

    Since September 2000 the street that runs past the democracy leader's home -- normally a busy thoroughfare -- has been closed off to traffic and barbed-wire barricades erected to prevent unauthorised access.But in recent days the neglected stretch of road has been a hive of activity as municipal crews patched up potholes and swept away rubbish and leaves, in apparent readiness for her to be freed.

    In another indication of news in the offing, a high-ranking junta official, Brigadier-General Than Tun who acts as the official liason with Aung San Suu Kyi, made his first visit to the house in several months on Tuesday.And plainclothes security officials outside the house said Wednesday they had been told to be ready to lay on a motorcade for the democracy leader should she call for transport.

    Over the past few days the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has issued an unusual number of visas to the foreign media, who began to descend on neatly ordered Yangon on Wednesday.Journalist visas are normally difficult to obtain, but the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok stayed open late on Tuesday to issue the permits before shutting for the May Day holiday.

    The United States said Tuesday it would welcome the release of the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader but that her freedom must be "unconditional"."We hope the reports out of Rangoon (Yangon) indicate the Burmese regime is serious about political reform and national reconciliation," said State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside, using the country's former name.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's release is likely to be only part of a much bigger picture of historic change in Myanmar, which has been stuck in a political deadlock since disallowed 1990 elections which the NLD won in a landslide.Observers say her emergence from house arrest could signify that the secret talks she began with the junta in October 2000, at the urging of the United Nations and brokered by Razali, were finally yielding fruit.

    "Her release on its own is a small but important step. It's very symbolic, and it will have a very powerful effect both inside the country and outside," said one Yangon-based diplomat."But we'll really have to see exactly what they're prepared to do (in terms of democratic reform)," he said. "In some ways it may not be obvious straight away how significant it is."

    The conditions under which Aung San Suu Kyi could operate as NLD leader in the future would also come under close scrutiny.She is known to be concerned that her release might return her to conditions she endured since 1995 when she was freed from six years under house arrest but forbidden to leave Yangon.Her attempt to defy the ban and travel to the northern city of Mandalay in September 2000 was the incident that prompted the junta to slap down the house arrest restrictions once more.

    While encouraging coverage from the foreign media, the SPDC is expected to make try and ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi's release does not cause a stir among ordinary Myanmar citizens who overwhelmingly support her.Observers said Wednesday's May Day celebrations would be a logical choice for a release as the city was quiet, with most residents enjoying the public holiday in their homes and in public parks and shrines.

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    Burma's Suu Kyi taken for secret meeting-military

    Rangoon, May 1--- Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was taken from her compound in the capital Rangoon for a secret meeting with government leaders, a military official told Reuters on Wednesday.

    She was accompanied by U Lwin, the secretary of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

    ''Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD Secretary U Lwin were taken from the compound escorted by a senior military intelligence official for several hours today,'' the official, who asked not to be identified, said.

    The military official speculated that Suu Kyi and U Lwin had met with powerful junta intelligence chief and Secretary One, Khin Nyunt, or his deputy Kyaw Win.

    Suu Kyi's lakeside compound, where she has been confined for more than 18 months, has become the focus of a flurry of official and media activity in recent days, amid signs the junta is preparing to set her free.

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