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Deadline nears for Burma to release

Subject: Deadline nears for Burma to release

/* Written 11:20 am  Jan 25, 1994 by beker@xxxxxxxxxx in igc:soc.cult.burma */
/* ---------- "Deadline nears for Burma to release" ---------- */
[ Posted on Mon, 24 Jan 94 13:36:56 PST ]

	RANGOON (UPI) -- Concealed from view behind a rickety wooden fence,
thick shrubs and palms on the banks of picturesque Inya Lake sits a two-
story colonial-style brick house.
	Along the fence are four guard posts. Other soldiers watch from
patrol boats plying the lake. Dozens more are stationed in wooden shacks
inside the compound.
	For four and a half years, the house has been home -- prison -- for
Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Peace laureate, pro-democracy leader and
international symbol of opposition to Burma's authoritarian regime, the
State Law and Order Restoration Council.
	Suu Kyi refused a Council offer of release if she would renounce
politics and live in exile. That left the junta with the choice of
releasing her and risking renewed unrest, or maintaining her detention
and reinforcing the Council's international isolation at a time when it
is desperate to gain some legitimacy.
	Diplomats say the government's dilemma is intensifying with the
approach of of the fifth anniversary of Suu Kyi's arrest on July 20.
Five years is the maximum a person can be detained without trial under
Burmese law.
	``It's crunch time,'' said one diplomat.
	The Council arrested Suu Kyi in 1989 for alleged sedition 10 months
after it took power and brutally suppressed a pro-democracy uprising. In
May 1990, Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won more than 80
percent of contested seats in general elections, but the Council refused
to allow the party to take power.
	At the time of her arrest, the maximum period for detention without
trial was three years. In 1992, the Council extended the limit to five
	Diplomats differ in their predictions on what action the Council will
take, but most agree that the government is still in a quandary.
	``There's a deathly hush about Suu Kyi, which indicates they don't
know what to do with her,'' said one diplomat. ``If they'd made a
decision, something would have filtered down by now.''
	Another diplomat said council members ``know they'll never convince
the West and get aid if they don't release her. But she won't go
overseas and they can't let her free in Rangoon. She's an enormous
symbol and there would be unrest. They can't negotiate with her as that
would elevate her status.''
	A long-time Western resident of Rangoon believes the Council ``is far
more afraid of the reaction if she is released domestically than the
international reaction if they extend her detention, on a scale of about
10 to one.''
	The Council itself enhanced this opinion recently when it indicated
it was ready to defy international pressure and extend the detention.
	``We have to consider the well-being of the other 43 million people
in Burma,'' Chief Justice Aung Toe, a Council member, said when asked
about the regime's plans for Suu Kyi.
	He said that although the government can hold a person for up to five
years, the ``central body,'' composed of the ministers of the Interior,
Foreign Affairs and Defense, can decide to detain anyone for a period of
up to one year.
	Diplomats said it was the first time they had heard of such a 
``central body.''
	Suu Kyi was allowed family visits for the first time in 1992.
Diplomats said her husband, Oxford academic Michael Aris, made his most
recent visit at Christmas.
	Only fragments of information have emerged about her daily life.
Burmese sources say she has one female servant who looks after her, that
her guards are changed regularly to avoid becoming too friendly with
her, and that she is allowed a radio.
	Diplomats said one possible government solution to the problem of Suu
Kyi was to speed up work on a new constitution being prepared by a
convention of largely Council-appointed delegates, so that a new system
of government is in place before July 20.
	``If they could get the convention over by July, it might be easier
to release her by then,'' said a Western diplomat.
	An Asian diplomat commented that if the Council believes ``her
influence is smaller than in 1989, then they may feel it is safe to
release her, but there is no conventional wisdom either way.''
	The Council in September approved the ``basic principles'' of the new
constitution, allowing ``genuine multi-party democracy'' but also giving
the military a ``leading role'' in national politics and mandating an
executive president be chosen not by Parliament but by an electoral
	``Suu Kyi is occupying the minds of the (Council) rather more than
the convention,'' said one diplomat. ``They've got things in the country
pretty much stitched up, but they can't shift international attention
away from Suu Kyi.''
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