Arroyo Calls for the Release of Burmese Dissident

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009; 1:26 PM

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called Friday for the immediate release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, saying that Burma should demonstrate whether it has a legitimate hold on power by accelerating a "road map" to democracy and by permitting the full participation of Suu Kyi's party in elections.

"The best way to find out [whether the government is legitimate] would be to accelerate the road map and have elections being conducted in an atmosphere and an environment in which Aung San Suu Kyi and her party are able to participate fully," Arroyo said in an interview. "It would help to promote human rights, democracy and peace and stability in the region."

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is regarded as one of the world's most oppressive nations, run by generals who have enriched themselves while much of the country remains desperately poor. The National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi's party, won a landslide electoral victory in 1990, but the military leadership refused to accept it. Since then, she has been under house arrest for most of the time, as have hundreds of her supporters. The government has also used brutal tactics against its ethnic minorities, employing gang rape as an instrument of war.

In May, just days before Suu Kyi's six-year term under house arrest was due to expire, the government put the 64-year-old democracy activist on trial for an incident involving a U.S. citizen who swam across Rangoon's Lake Inya to reach Suu Kyi's lakefront bungalow. Suu Kyi was taken to the notorious Insein Prison on charges of violating the terms of her detention by hosting a foreigner. A verdict was due to be announced Friday, but judges postponed the verdict until Aug. 11, citing a need to review the case.

Intense international pressure has been placed on the government regarding Suu Kyi. The Philippines has been among the countries most vocal in its concerns about human rights violations in Burma. It helped raise the issue at the United Nations and at the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Arroyo, who met with President Obama at the White House on Thursday, said that the two leaders had an extensive discussion on the situation in Burma and that the United States and the Philippines "are on the same page." The Obama administration has conducted a review of its Burma policy, suggesting that a tough approach has not yielded much progress, but the review has been on hold pending the outcome of Suu Kyi's trial.

Although the Philippines does not have the clout to impose sanctions on Burma, "the United States has a very strong influence on many countries that in turn influence Burma," Arroyo said. "I hope that given the continued commitment of the United States to human rights in Burma that concerted action can become stronger."

She added that she and other members of her government have urged Burmese officials to examine how the Philippines, also a multi-ethnic country, has emerged from military rule and created a democracy, saying it was a "paradigm" that could be followed.

Arroyo also said that greater attention should be paid to human rights abuses in North Korea. "North Korea's nuclear adventurism needed to be addressed," she said, but the "people are suffering while they are rattling their nuclear saber."

Next year, the Philippines will chair a panel charged with updating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Arroyo said Manila hoped to play a helpful role in ending the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.

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