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Nobel Laureates Appeal for Release of Burmese Opposition Leader

Several Nobel Peace laureates want the European Union to step up pressure on Burma's government to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from detention. The demand for greater EU pressure follows new U.S. sanctions that went into effect last month.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams says more economic pressure is needed to free Burma's leading democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.

In an interview in Bangkok Wednesday, Ms. Williams said that on behalf of several Nobel laureates, she has sent letters requesting new sanctions to European commissioners as well as to German's foreign minister.

"I've been trying to support efforts to get the European Union to increase its sanctions against the Burmese government," she explained. "As you know the U.S. government did increase its sanctions. We're not displeased by that - we think the European Union should follow suit."

The United States last month banned Burmese imports and is trying to deny the military government access to U.S. dollars.

Ms. Williams won the Peace Prize in 1997 for her efforts to ban the use of land mines and Aung San Suu Kyi won in 1991 for leading Burma's democracy movement despite brutal repression from the government.

To pressure Burma's government into dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, the European Union has stopped issuing visas to Burmese officials and is freezing the assets of members of Burma's government. It has suspended trade privileges over Burma's use of forced labor.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained since May 30, when government supporters attacked an NLD convoy, leaving several opposition members dead or injured.

Ms. Williams, attending a conference in Bangkok, also called on the countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN, to do more to encourage her release.

"We really need countries in this region to step up to the plate and, if they really support democracy, to take positive concrete steps to pressure this regime to engage in dialogue," she said.

Burmese leaders will join the heads of the other ASEAN states in October for a regional summit. Member countries such as Thailand and Indonesia are pressing Burma to free Aung San Suu Kyi and return to dialogue with the opposition.

Burma's new prime minister, Khin Nyunt, has said the government is moving to carry out fair elections but says there is no fixed time frame. He has warned that added pressure will only distance Burma from democracy.