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Rights Groups Condemn Detention of Pro-Democracy Leaders in Burma - 2003-06-03

International human rights groups are condemning the detention of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and virtually all of her top party leaders. The Asian Forum for Human Rights is calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and an end to what it calls a crackdown on her National League for Democracy.

A spokesman for the Bangkok group, Sunai Pasuk, says the ruling State Peace and Development Council, the SPDC, is not interested in political reform.

"This is a show that the military junta in Burma, they have no respect at all in [for] their own promises to allow a political environment which could facilitate the dialogue between NLD and SPDC," said Mr. Pasuk.

The Burmese government four days ago placed virtually all senior National League for Democracy leaders in what it called protective custody. It also sealed NLD offices around the country and closed universities, which have been a hotbed of the pro-democracy movement.

The government says the moves came after members of an NLD convoy attacked opposing groups in a town 700 kilometers north of Rangoon. It says four people were killed and at least 50 were wounded in the clash.

Asian Forum's Sunai Pasuk says his organization has received information from various groups in Burma indicating that government supporters instigated the violence.

"What we believe happened on that day is that the motorcade of Aung San Suu Kyi was ambushed by members of the pro-military junta USDA, which is a political group created by the militia junta, some elements in the armed forces, as well as thugs believed to be released from prison," he explained.

His group also thinks the casualty figures are much higher than those announced by the government.

Amnesty International has released similar information and is calling for an independent investigation into the incident.

The London-based rights group also expresses concern over the whereabouts of 150 NLD leaders, whom it says are being held incommunicado.

Another group, New York-based Human Rights Watch, has also criticized the situation, saying it looks like a deliberate attempt by the government to provoke violence to justify a crackdown.

The situation has drawn expressions of concern from Western governments and from the United Nations.