The Myanmar government has renewed the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi by a year.
Aung San Suu Kyi has already spent much of the past 17 years under house arrest.
This decision was met by widespread international condemnation including within ASEAN. About 500 of Suu Kyi’s supporters from her National League for Democracy (NLD) staged a rally outside the party’s headquarters in Yangon on Sunday (27 May 2007), calling for her release. However, they were blocked from marching to a Buddhist pagoda in downtown Yangon to pray for her release by about 100 of the junta’s supporters. The rally dispersed peacefully though one NLD elected member was dragged away.
In Jakarta, a group of activists from the Civil Society Coalition staged a noisy demonstration outside the Myanmar embassy, demanding her release. The Thai government issued a statement expressing disappointment, “Thailand was disappointed with the decision of the Burma government to extend Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest.” The Thai Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Piriya Khempon claimed that Thailand had urged the Myanmar government to release Aung San Suu Kyi.
A Malaysian member of parliament from the opposition Democratic Action Party, Lim Kit Siang, called on ASEAN to suspend or expel Myanmar. LikeningMyanmar as a millstone around the neck of ASEAN, “bringing disrepute to the regional organization”, he wanted ASEAN to face up to the truth of their abysmal failure in influencing the Myanmar junta.
In Singapore, a seminar on Myanmar was held in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). The presenters were not optimistic about the possibility of her release in the near future. One of the paper presenters, Britain's former ambassador to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, Mr Derek Tonkin said, “I think they would only release her if she agrees to leave Myanmar, which is highly unlikely.”
A senior fellow of ISEAS, Dr Tin Maung Maung Than opined, “Even if Mdm Syu Kyi goes free, it would be a matter of time before the military junta places her under house arrest again as her release would galvanise her supporters, resulting in country-wide unrest….. The only way to avoid such a volatile situation is to continue keeping her under house arrest as the junta will brook no interference on their grip on power.”
Several articles in the ASEAN media acknowledged the limited ability of ASEAN and called for more concerted efforts with other Myanmar neighbours. In a commentary in the Bangkok Post (26 May), ASEAN was also denigrated as an organisation that “care[s] only about economic issues and largely ignores human rights and peace. It has chosen to save the face of a member instead of standing up for what is right and upholding democracy.”
The editorial in the Nation (27 May) urged ASEAN to “convince China to exert its influence on Myanmar.” It noted that the situation in Myanmar might have repercussion on Singapore’s attempt to arrange for a special ASEAN summit with the United States President George W Bush. It also cautioned that ASEAN should not rely on the Charter to ensure that the members abide by the rules and regulations. The editorial warned, “questions remain about whether even a good charter will be of any use if a member state continues to behave as though it doesn’t really belong.”
Similarly, the Bangkok Post’s editorial (26 May) also urged China to exercise its ‘influence and ability necessary to rein in its patron’s [sic] worse abuses.’ It contrasted China’s potential to influence Myanmar with ASEAN’s spectacular failure “with its attempts at constructive engagement and faith in road maps.”
However, the issue of Myanmar now goes beyond ASEAN and China. Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmarese analyst based in neighboring Thailand noted, “Thanks to support from China and Russia, the military regime can ignore international pressure and keep Aung San Suu Kyi under detention.” Another Myanmarese analyst Win Min concurred that, “If China and Russia joined US and European efforts against Burma, it could create real pressure on the regime.”
While it is true that both China and Russia have been active in blocking US efforts at the United Nations Security Council, India has also been supportive of theMyanmar regime. Western diplomats in Rangoon remain extremely sceptical about the possibility of the release of Suu Kyi in the near future, with one commenting, “There does not seem to be any percentage in it for the junta, since I believe the regime is quite content with where things stand as they are - they have China, Russia and India in their corner, massive amounts of money are about to flow in from gas, and they have the opposition on their knees.”
Elsewhere, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement saying that, he “deeply regrets” the decision but “is determined to continue working towards tangible progress in Myanmar.” There have also been reports that the United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari will be visiting Thailand andMyanmar next month before the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Annual Meeting, to meet with the Myanmar government.
The United States State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Suu Kyi “should have been released a long time ago, along with all the other political prisoners.” The current European Union President, Germany said that it “deeply condemns” the move. The EU and United States have already imposed sanctions onMyanmar but like ASEAN, they remained impotent with regards to what more effective actions to be taken. (28 May 2007)
Junta Thugs Confront Suu Kyi Supporters Demanding Her Release (Irrawaddy, 28 May 2007)
Government ‘Disappointed’ with Burma (Bangkok Post, 28 May 2007)
Thailand ‘Disappointed’ at Suu Kyi Extension (Nation [from the Agence France Presse], 27 May 2007)
Suu Kyi Must be Set Free, Or Else (Nation, 27 May 2007)
Scorn Poured on Myanmar Over New Suu Kyi Detention (New Straits Times [from Reuters], 26 May 2007)
ASEAN urged to suspend or expel Myanmar (Straits Times, 26 May 2007)