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Bangkok Post 5/28

Thais only ASEAN observer at congress

by Nussara Sawatsawang

THAILAND was the only ASEAN member that sent a representative to the opening on
Sunday of the congress of Burma's opposition party, Foreign Ministry spokesman
Surapong Jayanama said yesterday.

A Rangoon-based Thai diplomat joined counterparts from Japan, the United States,
France, Britain, Germany and Italy at the opening of the National League for Democracy
congress that went ahead despite the arrest of most of its elected members.

The Burmese government had not banned the meeting at the lakeside home of
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the spokesman said.

It was the duty of diplomats to "observe" events in countries where they were sta
tioned, as the Burmese embassy in Bangkok would be entitled to observe the Bangkok
governor's elections, the spokesman added.

Diplomats from other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had also
been invited to the NLD event but none went, he said.

Brunei, Indonesia, Malay sia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam are the other
ASEAN members.

The Thai government, which has been heavily criticised for its "constructive
engagement" with the ruling junta in Rangoon, is also the only ASEAN government to
have expressed concern about the arrests.

Mr Surapong stressed on May 22 that Thailand favoured dialogue for national
reconciliation among Burmese and opposed use of force in the country's
democratisation process.

The spokesman yesterday expressed hope Thailand's expression of concern would not
affect its relations with Burma.

"We ask for significant dialogue between the SLORC and Aung San Suu Kyi, but we will
not intervene as to how the dialogue takes place. 

"Our concerns are not an interference," he said. Human rights were a "universal issue
over which no one can have sole authority". 

But the spokesman reacted cautiously to an American bid to rally Asians, Europeans,
and "other friends" in a "coordinated response" to the events in Burma.

Thailand would have to consult its ASEAN partners, he said of the White House decision
to send an envoy for the purpose.

Burma's military intelli gence chief Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt issued a thinly veiled attack on
the US in a speech reported in the official press yesterday.

"There is a group of persons in Myanmar (Burma) swaying to the enticement of a big
nation which is attempting to bring Myanmar under its influence in the pretext of
democracy and human rights," Reuters quoted him as saying.

But the Thai foreign ministry spokesman said the future of Burma in ASEAN was
unlikely to be affected because the arrests were regarded as an internal affair.

"It is up to individual ASEAN states to assess how recent events in Burma have
affected the country's stability, and how this would affect the stability of the region
as a whole," he said.

Burma is expected to be granted observer status to ASEAN when the group's foreign
ministers meet in Indonesia in July. Burma is also expected to join 18 other
Asia-Pacific countries in an ASEAN regional security forum.

Although heavily criticised for its dialogue with the ruling State Law and Order
Restoration Council in Rangoon, Thailand has also kept in touch with the regime's

Thailand's ambassador to Rangoon Poksak Nilubol was the first ASEAN ambassador to
visit Mrs Suu Kyi after she was released from almost six years of house arrest last

Suu Kyi predicted yesterday that the military regime would detain some of her jailed
supporters indefinitely and said her personal assistant had been thrown into a prison
notorious for torture.

Suu Kyi gave a tea for reporters and answered questions after the second day of an
opposition conference that the ruling junta had arrested at least 262 members of her
National League for Democracy.

Among the detainees were 238 delegates to the conference, which was to unite
surviving opposition candidates who won 392 of 486 seats in parliamentary elections
May 27, 1990. The regime never honoured the election results, and many of the winning
candidates already had been killed, jailed or driven into exile.

"There are indications that the authorities are going to keep the elected
representatives for much longer than we thought," Suu Kyi said. "Some delegates have
had charges placed against them."

The charges probably would stem from emergency powers laws, which give the
military authority to hold a detainee indefinitely for reasons of national security, Suu
Kyi said.

Suu Kyi said that it was "almost certain" that Win Htein, her personal assistant, and
several members of the party's youth wing had been transferred to the notorious Insein
Prison near Rangoon.

Win Htein was taken into custody the day after he notified the international media last
week of the mass roundup aimed at stalling the meeting, which comes on the sixth
anniversary of the elections and was seen as a symbolic challenge to the legitimacy of
the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council.

Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent promotion of
democracy, defiantly said in her opening conference speech Sunday that the party
would hold several congresses - implicitly daring the junta to repeat the mass
repression and ignite a fresh round of world condemmation.

Asked how the detainees at Insein would be treated, Suu Kyi replied: "It depends on the
people. Some aren't treated too badly, but others have had to live in harsher conditions.
Some were forced to sleep on concrete floors, in cold rooms, without food."

The location of the detainees is unknown. The regime claimed last week that they were
only being "questioned ... As guests of the government." None is known to have been

Amnesty International re ported last year that at least 800 political prisoners were
being held at Insein. Interrogators reportedly beat prisoners unconscious, made them
crawl over sharp stones, and kept them for hours in the blazing sun.

Some had been shackled for two months at a time. They were kept in overcrowded
conditions, poorly fed, and sometimes died from inadequate medical care, Amnesty

Regarding the congress, Suu Kyi said the delegate total had risen to 18 after "a very
brave and enterprising member of Parliament ... Made a lot of effort to get here."

She said the time had not arrived to discuss whether anyone could mediate between
the opposition and the junta, and discretion would be required in any case.

In remarks carried yesterday by the state-controlled newspaper New Light of Myanmar,
junta leader Lt. Gen Khin Nyunt called Suu Kyi and her followers puppets of a US-led
conspiracy to colonise Burma. The same newspaper ran an editorial calling the
democracy movement "maggots that can eat away into the flesh."

The crackdown focused international attention on Burma and brought new criticism of
foreign companies eager to profit by helping the junta to develop Burma's economy,
destroyed during nearly 34 years of military rule.