Burmese Police Seize Suu Kyi Backers

Tuesday, 27 May 2008 07:20 By Seth Mydans and Alan Cowell, International Herald Tribune | name.

Burmese Police Seize Suu Kyi Backers
Protesters shout slogans during a rally Tuesday, May 27, 2008, outside the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: Sukree Sukplang / Reuters)

    Bangkok - Authorities in Myanmar were reported to have seized supporters of the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday hours before a deadline for the annual extension of her house arrest.

    Aung San Suu Kyi, 62, has been confined at home for 12 of the last 18 years. The renewal of the detention has become virtually routine but her supporters still press for her freedom.

    About a dozen members of her National League for Democracy were surrounded by riot police and driven away in a truck as they marched Tuesday from the party's headquarters to her home, The Associated Press reported.

    Police had earlier thrown up a barricade made of wood and barbed wire to block the march and a Reuters reporter saw at least six police trucks, a prison van and a fire engine parked near the headquarters of the National League for Democracy.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's plight has been overshadowed by the cyclone that hit Myanmar more than three weeks ago. International attention has been focused on the military junta's reluctance to give foreign relief workers unfettered access to survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which left 135,000 people dead or missing and another 2.4 million survivors in need of immediate assistance.

    The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who met with top Burmese officials and chaired a donor conference last Sunday, was the first of a long series of United Nations emissaries not to raise the question of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's detention in meetings with the military junta.

    Asked about this omission at a press conference, he said, "We must think about people just now, not politics."

    According to Myamnar's State Protection Law, anyone who is deemed "a threat to the sovereignty and security of the State and the peace of the people" may be detained for up to a maximum of five years without trial, according to Jared Genser, an American lawyer who is an expert on the case.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's current term of detention began in May 2003 after she and a traveling motorcade were attacked in what some analysts believe was an assassination attempt on her. By some counts, more than 70 people were killed.

    Many analysts expect her detention to be extended. But some legal specialists believe that Aung San Suu Kyi's detention has reached a statutory limit and the military junta will be breaking its own laws if it continues to hold her.

    Within its repressive system, the military junta generally acts within the boundaries of its own laws or seeks legal justifications for its actions. Aung San Suu Kyi's detentions have been justified on a variety of legal grounds.

    Almost from the time of her first detention, in 1989, the question of her freedom has been at the top of the agenda of the United Nations in its dealings with Myanmar.

    Over the years, the United Nations has designated a series of envoys to Myanmar to address the detention along with the junta's abuses of human rights and political freedom.

    Most of the envoys began their contacts with the junta with optimism and some spoke of impending "breakthroughs." All ended their missions in disappointment.

    The latest of these was Ibrahim Gambari, who made a series of visits to Myanmar to convey the world's outrage after a crackdown last September on peaceful demonstrations led by monks. At least 31 people were killed.

    Like his predecessors, Gambari was upbeat after meeting the generals, but came away empty-handed and was not included in the United Nations delegation to Myanmar last week.

    Among other things, the junta had promised Gambari that it would open a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and appointed a government minister to be her contact.

    After initial, highly publicized meetings, the contacts with Aung San Suu Kyi stopped.

    --------

    Seth Mydans reported from Bangkok and Alan Cowell from Paris.

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 May 2008 08:16