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Burma Vows to Resist Pressure to Free Aung San Suu Kyi - 2003-07-05

The official Burmese press has run a commentary critical of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, indicating the government will continue to resist international pressure to set her free. The articles appear a day after two people gave graphic accounts of the violent attack on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's convoy that preceded her detention.

Khin Zaw and Wunna Maung are members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, or NLD. They gave the Thai Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs what they said was an eyewitness account Friday of the attack on an NLD convoy passing through northern Burma on May 30.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was making a tour of the region with members of her party when the attack occurred. She escaped unharmed in her car, but was later detained along with dozens of supporters.

The two witnesses said the convoy was attacked by a crowd of around 3,000 men, wielding iron rods, bamboo spears and wooden bats. They said the attackers were mostly drunk, and some were disguised as monks.

They said the attackers shouted 'Die! Die!' as they ambushed the NLD convoy from the front and the back, pulling NLD members out of the cars and beating them viciously to the ground. They said villagers who had come to greet the pro-democracy leader were also attacked.

The two men's testimony was the most detailed account yet of the attack, which led to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi being taken into what the government says is "protective custody." The government says the attack claimed four lives, while Burmese exiles say as many as 70 people were killed. The two witnesses could say only that "many" had died.

Amnesty International said Friday it was concerned for the safety of at least 90 people still missing since the attack. No information on the whereabouts of anyone, including Aung San Suu Kyi, has been provided by the government.

A day after the testimony, the official Burmese press ran a commentary critical of Aung San Suu Kyi, indicating the government was digging in its heels despite unprecedented pressure from the international community for her release.

Photographs showing the democracy leader dining with the ruling generals appeared in all three official newspapers, along with a commentary calling her a "willful and hard-headed person liable to rash judgments followed by blind action."

Sunai Phasuk, of the human rights group Asia Forum and an advisor to the Thai Senate committee, says he hopes Friday's testimony will persuade the international community to continue to press for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters.

"The world will find [it] more and more difficult to believe in the sincerity of the military junta and their allies," he said. "I think this [eyewitness account] will be very important for the international community to decide to increase the pressure on the military junta."

After their testimony, both men asked the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for status as political refugees.

An official from the Thai Foreign Ministry said a deal has been reached with the two: they have agreed not to talk to the press, and in exchange they will not be arrested for entering Thailand illegally.