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Deaths Blamed On Aung San Suu Kyi's Party Members

Deaths Blamed On Aung San Suu Kyi's Party Members

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Aung San Suu Kyi's foul-mouthed, rock-throwing party members may have set fire to a car, killing four people who were trapped inside when the flaming vehicle crashed, according to Burma's explanation for locking her up.

The regime's version of events could not be immediately confirmed. If the military junta strengthens the initial report, however, it would be the most serious charge leveled against Ms. Suu Kyi's party members in several years and could pave the way for their trial, imprisonment or worse.

Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy [NLD] party, along with many foreign embassies, journalists and analysts, traditionally denounce the regime's reports as unreliable propaganda designed to bend people away from her party's 1990 landslide election victory -- which the junta ignored.

But the official, published account reflects the regime's spin, and was expected to be repeated in coming days during Burma's meetings with diplomats and other envoys concerned about her sudden detention.

Stories about her NLD supporters behaving like obnoxious, violent mobs were also being published apparently to convince Burma's news-deprived population that Ms. Suu Kyi would thrust their nation into anarchy if she were allowed to rule.

In xenophobic, Buddhist-majority Burma, people routinely risk fines or jail if caught clandestinely monitoring the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Voice of America (VOA) or other foreign media which has portrayed Ms. Suu Kyi's detention as the desperate act of a panicky dictatorship.

The junta's stories of Ms. Suu Kyi and her supporters began appearing on Saturday (May 31) -- one day after authorities detained her in northern Burma during her speaking tour.

Starting on May 6, she thundered into various northern villages in a convoy which swelled to more than "150 motorcycles, 16 cars and over 300 people," and they often drove around for hours in each town, shouting obscenities and hurling rocks, before cruising to the next venue, the government's New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

In one incident on May 25, for example, NLD convoy members and supporters "threw and catapulted stones at a vehicle carrying those opposed to Suu Kyi, injuring three" in Nweyon village, it said.

Other victims included Kyaw Naing, who suffered an "open wound to skull and three stitches," while San Oo received an "oral injury with three stitches on the upper gum and four on the lower gum" during that melee.

The next day, Ms. Suu Kyi and her convoy drove to another site but "a motorcycle from the NLD's convoy ran over Ma Myat Thin Thu, aged 21, at Patheinlay village in Patheingyi township, causing injury to her leg."

The government listed more allegations of brutality by her supporters in several villages during her tour, establishing the context for the four alleged fatalities -- which authorities claim was why they seized her and several party members.

The four deaths occurred on Friday (May 30) night, two miles from Dapayin town, about 400 miles (560 kms) north of the capital Rangoon.

Amid clashes between the NLD and opponents, "a vehicle at high speed ran into a tree on the roadside. A vehicle of the NLD convoy ran off the road, breaking its windscreen [windshield]. It is learnt that NLD members torched a vehicle of those opposed to Suu Kyi. Four people died in the car crash," the New Light of Myanmar explained its sketchy Sunday (June 1) report without elaborating.

The government described Ms. Suu Kyi as uninjured in the skirmishes, while some of her supporters in neighboring Thailand claimed she suffered a head wound.

The regime transferred Ms. Suu Kyi to Rangoon on Sunday (June 1) where it held her under indefinite "protective custody," officials said.

The crisis in Southeast Asia's biggest nation caused concern in Thailand, where hundreds of Burmese refugees live in squalor alongside vocal dissidents financed by the U.S. and other foreign governments and by non-governmental organizations.

"Since she [Ms. Suu Kyi] was not directly confronting the regime and was ready for dialogue, it can only be surmised that her detention was intended to forestall the growing popular discontent with deteriorating economic conditions from coalescing around her and spiraling out of control," Thai Parliament member Kobsak Chutikul said in an open letter published on Tuesday (June 3).

"Widespread unrest in Burma would have a direct impact on us," Mr. Kobsak warned. "The next few months could be a highly volatile time in Burma."

Washington's Radio Free Asia (RFA) meanwhile gave a startlingly different account on Monday (June 2) of the clashes which resulted in her detention.

"Police and thugs attacked students traveling with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she visited northern Burma, according to a new eyewitness account," RFA said, without identifying its source.

"This account contradicts the junta's claim that deadly violence erupted spontaneously between rival pro- and anti-government factions," RFA said.

The U.S. station said "about five trucks loaded with members of the junta-sponsored Union Solidarity Development Association" stopped Ms. Suu Kyi's convoy near Dapayin -- the same spot where the junta said her supporters may have set fire to a vehicle in which four people perished.

RFA's source said "police, men dressed as monks, and convicts" climbed out of the trucks and attacked her convoy "with bamboo stakes between two and three feet long," severely beating several people.

Further down the road, "a group of [pro-Suu Kyi] motorcyclists who tried to follow Aung San Suu Kyi's car were intercepted between Butalin and Monywa, and about 100 police beat up its riders. The bodies of a young monk and a student, killed in the clash, were taken back to Monywa" village, RFA's source said.

Soldiers took the two corpses away, it added without elaborating.

In addition to the conflicting accounts of murder, the RFA broadcast also reveals Washington and Rangoon are using their government-created media to bolster harsh accusations, aimed at the hearts and minds of Burmese.

"RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media," the station said.

"Created by Congress in 1994, and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese" and several other Asian languages, RFA added.

After detaining Ms. Suu Kyi, Burma also shut down several of her NLD party offices and locked the universities and other campuses, apparently to avoid anti-regime demonstrations.

Ms. Suu Kyi's speeches "tried to find fault with, and exaggerate, the weak points of the government and ultimately they incited the public to fight," the New Light of Myanmar reported on Sunday (June 1).

"Her criticisms and attempts to instigate the public, with democracy as an excuse, will lead to undermining peace and stability of the State."


- Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is

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