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Burmese Pro-Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi Placed in 'Protective Custody' - 2003-05-31


The military government in Burma says it has placed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and more than a dozen members of her party in "protective custody" in the northern part of the country. The government says the detentions follow clashes in which four people were reportedly killed and scores were wounded.

A spokesman for the government, Brigadier General Than Tun, says Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters are in "protective custody" in a town near Mandalay, some 600 kilometers north of Rangoon.

The official said she and other leaders of her National League for Democracy party were detained Friday night, after violent clashes between her group and unidentified opponents of her pro-democracy party.

The government spokesman blamed the clashes on what he called inflammatory speeches by the opposition leader, which he said were critical of the government.

News agencies in the Burmese capital report that the national headquarters of the NLD were sealed by security forces Saturday, and police officers were posted outside the gates of the offices.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been touring northern Burma's Kachin state for the past month, opening party offices and giving speeches. Leaders of her party have on several occasions complained of harassment and intimidation by government supporters during the trip. The government on Thursday accused NLD members of assaulting opponents and of violating traffic laws during the trip.

The state run news media Saturday criticized the Nobel Peace Laureate for the first time in several years.

The arrests come six days before the U.N. special envoy to Burma, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, is to visit Burma in an effort to revive stalled reconciliation talks between the military government and the NLD.

The talks began 2.5 years ago, and led to the release a year ago of Aung San Suu Kyi, after 19 months of house arrest. Following her release, she was allowed to reopen party offices around the country and make speeches to supporters.

However, the confidence-building talks, which are aimed at starting negotiations over a transition to democracy, stalled earlier this year. Following his last visit to Burma six months ago, Mr. Razali expressed pessimism over prospects for a successful outcome to the talks.

The NLD won elections in 1990 as part of an earlier democratic transition, but was never allowed to govern. Hundreds of party loyalists, including dozens of elected parliament members, were arrested. Under the U.N.-brokered talks, several hundred party members have been released, but human rights activists say more than 1,000 political dissidents remain in prison.