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Freeze Myanmar Assets

June 11, 2003

The military thugs running Myanmar finally may have opened their eyes to the esteem in which Aung San Suu Kyi is held outside their nation. They already knew how much their oppressed citizens thought of the woman who should be leading the nation formerly known as Burma: The huge numbers greeting her on her journeys around her country provided graphic evidence of her popularity.

Harboring despots' fears of ouster by a charismatic pro-democracy leader, the army rulers arrested Suu Kyi, again, after a deadly attack on her motorcade May 30. However, they let United Nations representative Razali Ismail meet with the democracy activist Tuesday after stalling for days.

Delay is not new for Razali, who has sought for two years to push the nation's autocrats toward democracy. He deserves credit for insisting on a meeting with Suu Kyi; so does his boss, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who denounces the generals.

In 1947 a political rival assassinated Suu Kyi's father, an architect of the independence movement. Forty years later, his daughter began campaigning against the military regimes that ruled the country for much of its post-independence history. In 1990, she and her party won a parliamentary election but the military scrapped those results and kept her under house arrest. It also refused to let her leave to receive her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize or to be with her husband as he lay dying in England.

But a year ago, the junta let Suu Kyi travel again. Seeing her popularity undimmed, the government organized the May30 ambush of her motorcade and cited the violence as cause for her arrest. She was held incommunicado until Razali met her. Nearby nations like Thailand and Malaysia feebly protested the assault and arrest.

The U.S. Congress is considering tougher measures to freeze the assets of the Myanmar government held in the United States and to bar the country's leaders from traveling here.

Those steps are warranted unless Suu Kyi is released and allowed to travel freely. The United States and other countries earlier imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar that devastated its economy. Trade with Thailand and China, plus the export of narcotics, has kept it afloat.

The trading partners, other countries in the region and aid givers like Japan need to get tougher by imposing sanctions and aid suspensions to push the country toward democracy; that's the outcome Myanmar's citizens show they favor every time they get the chance.

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