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Thailand Seeks Aung San Suu Kyi Release

Thailand Seeks Aung San Suu Kyi Release


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand will push Burma "as hard as we can" to free Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, while also opening a new bridge across a river to link the two Southeast Asian nations.

"We would like to see the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. That's clear," Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said.

"We want to see her released, as immediately as possible. We will press hard, as hard as we can, for that," Kantathi said.

Thailand's lucrative commercial relations with Burma, also known as Myanmar, have attracted complaints from Mrs. Suu Kyi's supporters that Bangkok's elected politicians are too cozy with Rangoon's ruling generals.

"I have to share with you another secret: Myanmar has sometimes kept me from sleeping -- not full nights -- but partial. Of course, that [Suu Kyi's house arrest] is a very sensitive issue for Thailand," Kantathi told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on Thursday [Jan. 19].

"We would like Myanmar to accept the foreign minister of Malaysia, Syed Hamid Albar...as soon as possible."

Kantathi was referring to frustrated attempts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to send Syed as a representative to Burma, to meet the regime's coup-installed generals and Mrs. Suu Kyi, and pressure Burma into freeing her.

"We heard that the trip has been postponed because Myanmar had to focus attention this month on the movement of the capital, but nevertheless we have emphasized, and we will of course emphasize," that ASEAN's representative should be allowed to visit Burma "very soon," he said.

"If not January, then February or March. That's the timetable we have."

Burma is currently shifting its capital from Rangoon to the central city of Pyinmana.

The secretive generals have kept the move to Pyinmana under tight security, sparking speculation that they were following astrological warnings, or feared an invasion by U.S. forces.

Burma's Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said however the move was to improve governing the country, which has suffered 50 years of guerrilla wars by various minority ethnic tribes --- including the Shan, Chin and Karen -- who want autonomy or independence for their far-flung, jungle-clad regions.

"It [Pyinmana] is centrally located, and has quick access to all parts of the country," Kyaw Hsan told reporters in November.

Impoverished, chaotic Rangoon became a security nightmare for the generals in 1988 when they killed more than 1,000 people while crushing anti-government demonstrations.

By shifting the main ministries and other government offices to newly fortified, isolated Pyinmana, the regime might feel safer from a possible future uprising.

Foreign embassies in Rangoon were perplexed by the move, but were not expected to immediately rebase in Pyinmana.

"If you need to communicate on urgent matters, you can send a fax to Pyinmana," Burma's foreign ministry told stunned ambassadors in November.

That same month, the regime extended Mrs. Suu Kyi's detention by another 12 months.

Sixty-year-old Mrs. Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She has been under house arrest, on and off, for 10 of the past 15 years in her gloomy Rangoon villa.

Her National League for Democracy party won a landslide election victory in 1990, but the results were ignored by the military.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in November Burma was "one of the worst regimes in the world" because of relentless violations of human rights.

Washington and the European Union enforce some economic sanctions against Burma in an effort to pressure the regime into freeing Mrs. Suu Kyi and allowing democracy.

Burma stays solvent thanks to friendly economic relations with its immediate neighbors, including China, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

"This weekend, we are opening a bridge," linking northwest Thailand and northeast Burma across the narrow Salween River, Kantathi said.

"The bridge will facilitate communication between our peoples."

Thailand and Burma already share a modest overland crossing, plus daily flights linking Bangkok and Chiang Mai with Rangoon and Mandalay.

"We share 2,400 kilometers of border with them," Kantathi said.

"I always tell them to look at Thailand. We are a mature democracy, and look at what we have done."

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 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 http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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