Myanmar junta gang hits Suu Kyi birthday rally

Thu Jun 19, 2008

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON, June 19 (Reuters) – Pro-junta thugs broke up a rally by supporters of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, detaining three people among a crowd chanting for her release on her 63rd birthday, a senior opposition member said.

At least six truckloads of Swan-Arr-Shin, or “Masters of Force”, gang members waded into the crowd outside the dilapidated headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the former capital, Yangon, one witness said.

“We saw some of them slapping and beating NLD members,” the witness said. Senior NLD official Win Naing later told Reuters three people had been taken away.

Police cordoned off roads leading to the rally where the NLD members had shouted slogans demanding freedom for Suu Kyi and more than 1,300 political prisoners believed to be behind bars in the former Burma.

Suu Kyi’s confinement in her lakeside home in Yangon was extended in May despite international pleas to the generals to end her latest stretch of detention, which began in May 2003.

The Nobel peace laureate has now been confined for nearly 13 of the past 19 years, with her telephone line cut and all visitors barred apart from her cook and occasionally her doctor.


Her birthday has become an annual ritual inside and outside Myanmar for campaigners seeking an end to the 46 years of military rule that have reduced a once-promising economy and country to an impoverished international pariah.

Every year, the NLD’s ageing leadership releases birds and statements calling for Suu Kyi’s freedom and a meaningful transition to democracy.

Every year, the junta ignores them — as it does the protests and all-too-familiar statements of outrage and frustration that mark the day outside the country.

After Cyclone Nargis, which left 134,000 people dead or missing and 2.4 million destitute, campaigners are worried about the international community quietly shelving their icon’s plight in a bid to get the junta to open up to outside aid.

“The U.N. is crawling on its knees before the regime, afraid to speak the truth in case it affects aid access deals which the regime is already breaking,” Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK said last month.

Washington has imposed ever-tighter sanctions on the generals in a bid to force them into political rapprochement with the NLD, which won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power.

The strategy appears merely to have driven the regime further into isolation, as shown by its complete distrust of U.S. offers of ships and military helicopters to ferry aid to Nargis victims in the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta.

Dozens of people protested outside the Myanmar embassies in Bangkok and Manila, where they carried roses, gift-wrapped boxes and placards.

In the Indian capital, where Suu Kyi went to school in the early 1960s while her mother was ambassador to New Delhi, police briefly detained more than 50 demonstrators who marched through the streets wearing black “Free Suu Kyi” bandanas. (Additional reporting by Manila bureau) (Editing by Ed Cropley and Sanjeev Miglani)


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