Detention of Burmese Democracy Activist Extended

By Amy Kazmin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

BANGKOK, May 27 -- Burma's military junta on Tuesday extended the house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize-winning democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi for another year, drawing softer criticism than usual from foreign governments that are now focused on aiding survivors of Tropical Cyclone Nargis.

The news came as U.N. officials said they expected to rapidly scale up delivery of much-needed food aid in coming days. In Geneva, the United Nations said only 42 percent of an estimated 2.4 million victims have received outside aid more than three weeks after the disaster.

Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burma's revered independence hero, Aung San, and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, which won a landslide election victory in 1990 but has not been permitted to take power.

A symbol of hope for millions of Burmese, she has spent approximately 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest, including an unbroken stretch since May 2003, after her convoy was violently attacked during a political tour that drew rapturous crowds.

The government's decision to confine her to her dilapidated lakeside bungalow for another year had been widely predicted. It was conveyed to her by officials during a 10-minute visit to her home. Earlier, 30 of her supporters tried to march from the NLD headquarters to her home, but their protest was quickly broken up, with about 16 people arrested.

Western governments have traditionally been vociferous in calling for Suu Kyi's freedom. Over the last decade, the United Nations has repeatedly sought to broker real dialogue between her and the generals.

But since cyclone Nargis, many of those governments and the United Nations have been preoccupied with the struggle to deliver lifesaving emergency relief and long-term recovery assistance to survivors .

While visiting Burma, also called Myanmar, last week, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spent two hours with Burmese military and government chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe, without mentioning Suu Kyi. At a donor meeting Sunday, more than 50 governments promised greater financial aid for cyclone survivors if the government gave foreign aid workers "unhindered access" to the cyclone zone. But the donors laid down no political conditions for the help.

Still, President Bush issued a statement saying he was "deeply troubled" by the house arrest extension, which he noted dated this time from "the murderous assault by regime-sponsored thugs on her motorcade."

"The United States will continue to help the people of Burma recover from the devastation of Cyclone Nargis and will continue to support the Burmese people's long term struggle for freedom," Bush said.

Pro-democracy activists accused international leaders of betraying Suu Kyi. Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK, said, "The U.N. is crawling on its knees before the regime, afraid to speak the truth in case it affects aid access deals."

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