Thursday, October 4, 2007

Burma (Myanmar) and Aung San Suu Kyi

You might be interested in some historical and current information about Burma (also referred to as Myanmar) as well as Aung San Suu Kyi.

I have written this primarily based on material gathered from Wikipedia on Burma (Myanmar) and Aung San Suu Kyi.

The political system of Burma remains under the tight control of the State Peace and Development Council, the military government led, since 1992, by Senior General Than Shwe, first among equals in the current regime. He is said to be superstitious and to consult with astrologers, but otherwise has a public image that is taciturn in the extreme. No. 2 is Deputy Senior Gen. Maung Aye, whose reputation is, if anything, more ruthless than Than Shwe's, probably because he has more field combat experience from fighting ethnic rebels. Soldiers in the 400,000-strong military live secluded from civilian life in isolated barracks; their families are provided with housing as well.

The Burmese military has dominated government since General Ne Win led a coup in 1962 that toppled the civilian government of U Nu. Part of the British Empire until 1948, Burma continues to struggle to mend its ethnic tensions.

In 1988, the Burmese army violently repressed protests against economic mismanagement and political oppression. On 8 August 1988, the military opened fire on demonstrators in what is known as 8888 Uprising and imposed martial law. However, the 1988 protests paved way for the 1990 People’s Assembly elections. The election results were subsequently annulled by Senior General Saw Maung’s government. The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won over 60% of the vote and over 80% of parliamentary seats in the 1990 election, the first held in 30 years. The military-backed National Unity Party won less than 2% of the seats.

Aung San Suu Kyi has earned international recognition as an activist for the return of democratic rule, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The decision of the Nobel Committee mentions: The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991 to Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. ...Suu Kyi's struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. She has become an important symbol in the struggle against oppression.....In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991 to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means

The junta faces increasing pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom. Burma’s situation was referred to the UN Security Council for the first time in December 2005 for an informal consultation.

The ruling regime has repeatedly placed her under house arrest. Despite a direct appeal by former U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan to Senior General Than Shwe and pressure by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Burmese military junta extended Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest another year on 27 May 2006 under the 1975 State Protection Act, which grants the government the right to detain any persons on the grounds of protecting peace and stability in the country.

In September 2006, ten of the United Nations Security Council’s 15 members voted to place Burma on the council’s formal agenda. On Independence Day, 4 January 2007, the government released 40 political prisoners, under a general amnesty, in which 2,831 prisoners were released. On 8 January 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the national government to free all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

On May 16, 2007, 59 world leaders released a letter demanding Burma's military government free Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. The signatories include all three surviving former US presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton; the former UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former President of Poland, Lech Wałęsa; as well as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, amongst many others.

On 25 May 2007, Burma extended Suu Kyi's detention for yet another year which would keep her confined to her residence for a fifth straight year.

After her confinement was again extended, current Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that "the sooner restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Burma will be able to move towards inclusive national reconciliation, and the restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights."

On June 17, 2007, Aung San Suu Kyi's 62nd birthday, Senators Mitch McConnell and Diane Feinstein in the United States Senate urged the continuation of trade sanctions on the Burma government. In a statement, McConnell said "The best gift we can give Suu Kyi on this day is to continue to urge the international community to press for her immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all prisoners of conscience."

Protests led by Buddhist monks began on 19 August 2007 following steep fuel price increases, and continued each day, despite the threat of a crackdown by the military.

On Saturday, 22 September 2007, although still under house arrest, Suu Kyi made a brief public appearance at the gate of her residence in Rangoon (also known as Yangon) to accept the blessings of Buddhist monks who were marching in support of human rights.

Here is a September 26, 2007 AFP report from Rangoon "Nine killed as Myanmar junta cracks down on protests — Security forces swept through Myanmar's main city Thursday, killing nine people including a Japanese journalist, and arresting hundreds more in a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests. At least 50,000 people, many of them youths and students, swarmed into Yangon undeterred by the deaths the day before of at least four protesters, including three Buddhist monks, and repeatedly defied orders to disperse. As the shots rang out, they ran for their lives, only to regroup and face down the might of Myanmar's junta which has exerted iron rule over the impoverished country for more than four decades. In six hours of chaotic protests, state media said nine people were killed and another 11 protesters injured including one woman. The protesters threw bricks, sticks and knives at the security forces, so because of the desperate situation the security forces had to fire warning shots," it said, adding 31 police and soldiers were also wounded."

On 30 September 2007, in relation to rising political unrest in Burma, a United Nations emissary Ibrahim Gambari spent over an hour meeting with aung San Suu Kwi (whose name often includes the word "Daw", a term of respect usually for an older woman, somewhat like "aunt") near her guarded Rangoon home.

On 2 October 2007 Gambari returned to talk to her again after seeing Than Shwe and other members of the senior leadership in Naypyitaw.

Speaking at the session in Geneva, Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations, U Nyunt Swe, said the protests had sought to overthrow the regime and had been stoked by outside interests, but that the government had managed to restore calm. "The government has firm evidence that these protests were being helped both financially and materially by internal and external anti-government elements," he said. "As all are aware, things have calmed down. We are able to bring normalisation to the situation," he added.

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