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Myanmar Refuses to Let U.N. Envoy Meet With Suu Kyi

The democracy activist has not been seen since being detained after her motorcade was attacked last week. U.S. calls her isolation 'outrageous.'

June 07, 2003|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

BANGKOK, Thailand — Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since her motorcade was attacked a week ago, was not allowed to meet Friday with a United Nations envoy who is seeking her release.

Suu Kyi, 57, the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has not been seen since the May 30 attack in northern Myanmar in which supporters say she was injured and as many as 80 of her supporters were killed.

Myanmar's rulers initially said Suu Kyi was being held for her own protection and that four people died in the melee. Among her supporters, however, concern over her fate has increased with each day of her detention in an undisclosed location.

U.N. Special Envoy Razali Ismail arrived in Yangon, the capital, and met with officials of the military regime, as the U.S. State Department called her continued isolation "outrageous and unacceptable."

"I have heard that she's been injured ... but these are all just rumors," Razali told reporters in Malaysia before leaving for Myanmar. "I think the government can be persuaded to allow me to see her. They should really help themselves by allowing me to see her."

U.S. Embassy officials who visited the scene of the violence this week said the evidence indicated that there had been a "premeditated ambush" of Suu Kyi's motorcade carried out by "government-affiliated thugs."

"The debris remaining at the scene suggests a major clash, which could easily have resulted in serious injuries to large numbers of people," Deputy State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said in a statement issued Thursday.

The United States called on Myanmar to release Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy and to reopen party offices that were shut after the attack.

Officials warned that Razali, who has been attempting to negotiate a return to democracy for the past two years, would cut short his visit if he were denied access to Suu Kyi.

"If Ambassador Razali is not able to meet privately with Aung San Suu Kyi, the U.S. will need to evaluate the utility of this U.N.-sponsored effort to support national reconciliation," the State Department said.

The military seized power in a 1962 coup and crushed a popular, pro-democracy uprising in 1988, killing thousands. The government held elections in 1990, and Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide but was never allowed to rule.

Suu Kyi was held under house arrest from 1989 to 1995, and then again for 18 months ending a year ago. Since her release, she has traveled to various parts of the country attempting to rebuild her party.

The military government renamed the country from Burma to Myanmar and the capital city from Rangoon to Yangon, although the name changes are not recognized by the U.S.

The Democratic Voice of Burma, an exiled opposition group, said it had received statements from eyewitnesses describing the attack on the motorcade. As Suu Kyi approached the provincial town of Dipeyin, the roadway was blocked by a truck, and the tires of the lead car in her motorcade were shot out, the group said.

Suu Kyi was traveling in the third car in line. Some of her supporters attempted to protect her by shielding her car with their bodies and were beaten by thugs with bamboo poles, the organization said.

The group estimated that as many as 80 people were killed. One driver said that he had been forced to transport 17 bodies after the clash, the group said. Other reports have suggested that Suu Kyi was struck in the head, face or shoulder, but the Democratic Voice of Burma said its witnesses could not say how she was arrested or whether she was beaten.

Economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar by the United States and other countries have crippled the country's economy. Illegal narcotics are one of its major exports.

Critics in Congress have introduced new measures that would freeze assets of the Myanmar government held in the U.S., prohibit the country's leaders from traveling to the U.S. and require the Treasury Department to oppose loans to Myanmar by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

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