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Philippines Calls for Release of Aung San Suu Kyi - 2003-06-20

The Philippines' top diplomat on Friday called for Burma's military government to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Philippine Foreign Minister Blas Ople criticized his Burmese counterpart, Win Aung, on Friday for providing "half an answer" about the detention of democracy activist and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

When pressed Thursday at a meeting of Pacific Rim foreign ministers about when Aung San Suu Kyi would be released, the Burmese foreign minister said only that her detention was "temporary."

Mr. Ople says he and other Asian leaders are disappointed that Burma, also known as Myanmar, cannot provide a more forthcoming answer.

Aung San Suu Kyi was taken into custody by Burma's military government three weeks ago, following violence in the northern part of the country. The military describes her detention as "protective custody," asserting she was the target of an assassination plot.

Special United Nations envoy Razali Ismail says he saw Aung San Suu Kyi in good condition. But Britain's Foreign Office says it was "appalled" to learn Aung San Suu Kyi spent her 58th birthday in the notorious Insein prison, and that she has been wearing the same clothes she had on when she was arrested.

The United States is among countries considering stepped-up sanctions to isolate Burma. Secretary of State Colin Powell used the word "brutal" to describe Burma's leaders, and demanded they release Aung San Suu Kyi.

Foreign Minister Win Aung rejected the description of his government as brutal, saying there is no evidence. But he also said he would take home the serious criticism he heard from his counterparts.

Aung San Suu Kyi's detention galvanized members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) into a rare unity. What is also rare is the willingness of ASEAN leaders to speak out on Burma's actions, rather than adhere to a tradition of non-interference in each other's internal matters.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Blas Ople says ASEAN will continue to pressure Burma for Aung San Suu Kyi's release. Once that happens, he says, the international community will step up its demands for political reforms to change Burma from military to democratic rule.