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Analysis: Aung San Suu Kyi's Re-Arrest

Analysis: Aung San Suu Kyi's Re-Arrest

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Burma's surprise detention of Aung San Suu Kyi comes amid scattered bombings, a crippling international boycott and demands by Washington for an end to the military dictatorship which blocks her from power.

By clamping the charismatic Nobel Peace laureate "under temporary protective custody," the government ended the spectacle of thousands of people who flocked to hear her criticize the junta during her month-long northern tour which was scheduled to end on June 4.

The regime's unpopularity was crystallized in an August 1988 bloodbath in which the military opened fire on thousands of protestors who were swarming the streets of the capital Rangoon in support of Ms. Suu Kyi and to end rice shortages.

More than 1,000 mostly unarmed civilians were killed during several days of clashes, and hundreds of dissidents fled into the jungle to join armed guerrilla groups or escape into neighboring Thailand.

In the latest feud between the two sides, authorities seized Ms. Suu Kyi and 19 of her party members in tiny Yaway Oo town, about 400 miles (560 kms) north of Rangoon on Friday night (May 30), Brigadier General Than Tun told a news conference.

"For their own security they are now under temporary protective custody," the brigadier said on Saturday (May 31).

Ms. Suu Kyi was in northern Burma drumming up support for her National League for Democracy (NLD) party and deliver rousing speeches.

Violence erupted in the northern town of Dipeyin, where thousands of her opponents clashed with her supporters, the brigadier said according to Associated Press.

Ms. Suu Kyi was not hurt, but at least four people died and 50 were injured in the two-hour brawl before police restored calm, the brigadier added.

Authorities also reportedly sealed her NLD headquarters in Rangoon, and confined some of her other party members.

She was due to meet a visiting U.N. envoy in Rangoon in a few days, amid hopes that the military could be prodded into a dialogue with Ms. Suu Kyi about allowing the NLD to rule.

She was granted freedom one year ago after an 18-month stretch under house arrest -- the result of a similar speaking tour which authorities stopped in a rural area. Earlier, she spent several years confined to her stately Rangoon home for engaging in anti-regime activity.

In 1990, her NLD party won a landslide election victory, which the military ignored.

Since then, the junta has been drafting a new constitution without her participation -- an act Ms. Suu Kyi condemned as a ruse to crush dissent and ensure immunity for the junta's leaders.

While the regime may be trying to buy time, Washington has stepped up its rhetoric.

Than Shwe -- who heads the secretive junta -- recently came under personal attack from U.S. politicians.

"Than Shwe's regime continues to employ terror and brutality as a means of retaining power over the Burmese people," U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY) told Congress on May 22.

"His military regime continues to systematically abuse the human rights of the Burmese people through its campaign of torture, imprisonment, forced child labor and murder," said Mr. King, a member of the International Relations Committee and chairman of the Financial Services subcommittee overseeing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

"It is the policy of the United States to support the National League for Democracy as it tries to restore democracy to Burma, and we applaud Aung San Suu Kyi's unwavering determination," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on May 7.

The Virginia-based Freedom Forum foundation gave one million U.S. dollars to Ms. Suu Kyi in February as a "personal gift" because of "her free-spirited, non-violent struggle for human rights and democracy."

Burma, officially known as Myanmar, has voiced anger over Washington's support for Ms. Suu Kyi and U.S.-led sanctions designed to oust the military.

Burma boasts its oil and gas -- which it calls "black gold" and "white gold" -- and its energy export projects profit the country and also enrich investors in the United States, France, Britain, Thailand, Malaysia and elsewhere.

"Internal and external destructive elements...put pressure on the oil companies such as [America's] Unocal and [France's] Total to withdraw from the gas field in which the companies engaged," the government's New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on May 2.

"Expatriates and external destructive elements filed a lawsuit against them at the courts abroad" and "they tried to drive Unocal and Total out of Myanmar. But they failed," the paper added.

"The Ministry of Energy, Unocal and Total sold the natural gas. It is natural and fair. The profits the Myanmar government gained was of help to the development" of Burma, it said.

A recent spate of scattered bombings has also frayed nerves in Burma, causing concern that divisions among Ms. Suu Kyi, the military, ethnic guerrillas, opium warlords and other frustrated groups may splinter the impoverished, yet resource-rich country.

Four separate explosions killed at least four people on May 21 in the northeast town of Tachilek, on the border with Thailand.

Officials in both countries blamed minority ethnic guerrillas fighting for independence or autonomy in that region, which thrives on illegal opium and heroin production.

The bombs wrecked a police station, power plant, gasoline station and a statue of a Burmese king.

Earlier, in an apparently unrelated incident, a blast killed at least one person and injured three others in front of Rangoon's Telecommunications Offices on March 27, coinciding with Armed Forces Day -- previously known as Resistance Day.

Ms. Suu Kyi has tried to allay fears among the junta -- known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) -- that it will not be targeted if her NLD achieves power.

"We have tried to make it very clear to the SPDC that we do not want to be the enemy, we do not want to look upon them as the enemy," she told the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC) in March.

"We are in opposition to each other at the moment, but we should work together for the sake of the country and we certainly bear no grudges against them and we are not out for vengeance. We want to reach the kind of settlement which will be beneficial for everybody, including the members of the military."

Ms. Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burma's late, revered independence leader, General Aung San, who helped oust Japanese occupying forces during World War II.


- Richard S. Ehrlich is a freelance writer based in Thailand. This article is available for syndication contact the author at or by fax via u.s.a. (978) 334 5691, phone bangkok (66) 02 286 2434 mobile (66) 06 779 3706

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