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Burma Releases 8 Supporters of Suu Kyi - 2003-11-10


The United Nations human rights envoy to Burma says the government has told him it has released eight of 35 people who detained during a crackdown on supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi. However, the envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, adds the pro-democracy leader and nine senior party leaders still do not have freedom.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro says Burma's military leaders told him Aung San Suu Kyi is not being held under any security law. But he says this statement does not conform to what he saw when he visited the leader of the National League for Democracy party at her home in Rangoon last week.

"She's inside her house without freedom of movement or freedom of access," says Mr. Pinheiro. "Her colleagues of the committee of the (NLD) party are in house arrest. One is in detention. And even if they have released eight of the 35, there are some that continue in detention."

The United Nations human rights envoy says Aung San Suu Kyi told him she would decline any liberties until all those detained five months ago were released. He says eight members of the NLD executive committee are under house arrest and a ninth, Chairman U Tin Oo is in prison.

Mr. Pinheiro says an estimated 150 NLD members were detained after May 30th and all party offices were closed. The government says the detainees are in protective custody after their backers clashed with government supporters. Western diplomats quote witnesses as saying government supporters staged an unprovoked attack on an NLD convoy, killing dozens of people.

Mr. Pinheiro urged the military leaders to declare a general amnesty and release all of the country's estimated 1,300 political prisoners. He says a transition to democracy cannot begin with political prisoners still in jail.

He called the May 30 incident a significant setback in the efforts to bring democratic reforms in Burma because it ended the confidence-building talks between the government and the NLD. The pro-democracy party won national elections 13 years ago but was not allowed to govern.

"The contacts, even if they were not substantial, were interrupted. And you have all the offices of the NLD closed. This is a big regression," he says. "I would not say, not yet, [that] there is progress. I think there are some opportunities that we could have in the future some progress, but not now, this week."

The Brazilian human rights expert said these opportunities include a plan for national reconciliation announced by the Burmese government. But he noted that the government has not granted his request to investigate the May 30th incident and reported abuses against ethnic minorities in the rebellious north.

Mr. Pinheiro is to present his findings to the U.N. General Assembly later this week.

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