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International Community Increases Pressure on Burma - 2003-06-26


International pressure continues to mount on Burma's ruling generals to release democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi. Even Burma's neighbors are joining in the criticism.

Japan, Thailand and Malaysia issued new warnings to Burma if the military government does not release Aung San Suu Kyi. Reuters news agency quotes a Japanese official as saying Japan cannot continue - as he put it - "business as usual" with Burma and may reconsider its policy of engagement.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate for her efforts to democratize her homeland, was detained May 30 after a clash between her supporters and a pro-government mob in northern Burma. The government says her supporters started the violence, but diplomatic observers put the blame on a government-backed crowd.

The Japanese warning comes one day after Senior Vice Foreign Minister Tetsuro Yano announced a freeze in new Japanese economic aid to Burma.

Mr. Yano does not specifically mention Aung San Suu Kyi, but says Japan could not offer new assistance under what he terms the "current circumstances." Japan is Burma's biggest international donor.

Ronald May, a professor of political and social change at the Australian National University, says Tokyo's policy towards Burma has been somewhat more tolerant than some nations, but its patience has worn out.

"But I think it was premised on some more liberal tendencies becoming apparent in the regime," says Mr. May. "And I think that when this sort of thing happens, the reaction is likely to be, "okay, we're not going to continue to support the regime if this is the regime's actions in a case like this.""

Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the international community, and in particular, Burma's fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are increasingly frustrated over the matter. He called on the ruling generals to release Aung San Suu Kyi as soon as possible, or face tougher international sanctions.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow says delaying her release harms any hope of achieving national reconciliation in Burma. "We would like to see the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. And we don't think that the delay - if it's delayed - would be in the interests of the process of national reconciliation."

Malaysia's government on Thursday also pushed Burma to heed calls for Aung San Suu Kyi's release, saying her continued detention harms ASEAN's reputation.

China, however, refrained from any criticism, with a foreign ministry spokesman Thursday describing Aung San Suu Kyi's detention as an "internal political issue."

The democracy leader has been held incommunicado since May 30th, with only one outside visitor, U.N. Special Envoy Razali Ismail, being allowed to see her. In Tokyo Wednesday, Mr. Ismail spoke in unusually blunt terms, saying Aung San Suu Kyi is in good health and spirits, but that she is being held in what he termed "absolutely deplorable conditions."

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