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Concern Remains for Burmese Opposition Leaders - 2003-06-11

Burmese opposition groups have welcomed the news that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is in good health and the military government is saying it plans to release her. However, foreign governments and human rights groups continue to press for the release of all the leaders of her party and a resumption of reconciliation talks.

Leaders of exiled Burmese opposition groups say they were happy to hear that Aung San Suu Kyi was not injured in a clash with pro-government groups 12 days ago. And they welcome the decision by the military government to allow United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail to meet with her in Rangoon.

They are still concerned, however, over a lack of information about the scores of other leaders of her National League for Democracy Party, who were detained with her in a crackdown following the clash in northern Burma.

The response follows a one-hour meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. Razali on Tuesday, the last day of his five-day visit to Rangoon. Mr. Razali said he found the pro-democracy leader in good health and good spirits.

Concern had been mounting that the Nobel Peace Prize winner had been injured in what the U.S. State Department said was a pre-meditated ambush on her group by pro-government activists.

A senior Burmese official said after Tuesday's meeting that Aung San Suu Kyi was in custody for her own safety, and that her detention was only temporary. The official said his government regards the incident as unfortunate, and remains committed to national reconciliation and democratization.

A professor at the National University of Singapore, Maitrii Aung-Thwin, said the incident, in which at least four people were killed, shows that neither the government nor the NLD may be in full control of their supporters in some parts of the country. He said as a result that the detentions may be have been necessary.

"They actually took her away from the scene so that she doesn't get hurt by parties that they can't control or the NLD can't control. So, in terms of the long-term process, it actually helps it, in that it allows the tensions and the violence that erupted in northern Myanmar to settle down and then they can move forward," he said.

The United Nations, the European Union and the governments of the United States, Japan and Australia also remain concerned by the continued detention of the NLD leadership. They said the real solution to the crisis is a resumption of the reconciliation talks that Mr. Razali has been mediating for the past two years.

A Professor at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong, says the reconciliation process has been dealt a severe blow by the incident, but it can still be revived if pressure continues on the Burmese government.

"It depends on the outside, the international community and Western countries, how things are working out. That might be the last hope that things can be changed," he said.

Mr. Razali said he was given assurances that the NLD leaders will be released soon. He said he was given no date, but believes it could be in about two weeks.