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BP: Burma sentences decency to dea

May 11, 1998



              Burma sentences
              decency to death

              The Burmese regime has served notice in the past two weeks
              that it may have changed its name but the spirit of Slorc lives on.
              The harsh holders of power have condemned a string of
              opposition figures. The sentences have ranged from actual death
              sentences to virtual death sentences. At the same time, the
              military junta has made it clear it will not discuss or negotiate the
              political future of Burma with anyone. That includes, especially,
              the country's only elected leader and concerned foreign friends
              of Burma. 

              It is difficult to say which is the worst breach of decency by the
              State Peace and Development Council, the new name for Slorc.
              The prison sentence of 25 years against San San could qualify.
              She is an often outspoken Burmese dissident. She was
              sentenced by Slorc to 25 years in prison for the heinous crime of
              speaking against the government. She was paroled six years ago.
              But late last year, San San spoke on the telephone to a reporter
              for the British Broadcasting Corporation. The military regime
              said that was treason, and San San went back to prison to serve
              her former 20 years, plus 25 new prison years ? a total of 45
              years. She is 60 years old. 

              Then there are the death sentences against two former student
              leaders, Ko Thein and Khin Hlaing. The two were among six
              political dissidents tried at a secret military court somewhere in
              Burma last month. They and 38 others faced charges of
              terrorism, including possession of explosives and plotting to
              assassinate members of the ruling dictatorship. Details of the
              charges and the court martial testimony were secret, and remain
              that way. But it appears the main evidence against Ko Thein and
              Khin Hlaing was that they tried to hand a letter on human rights
              to a special United Nations investigator and personal
              representative of UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. 

              Amid these displays of Burmese justice, a more predictable
              street show was unfolding in Rangoon. Several US journalists on
              a visit to Burma got the back of the junta's hand. They tried to
              visit Aung San Suu Kyi at her Rangoon home. Military forces
              ringing the home turned them back. The regime considers Mrs
              Suu Kyi to be Burma's most dangerous person. This is why she
              is continually and continuously harassed and mistreated, denied
              even the most basic political rights. 

              This treatment of the country's only elected leader also displays
              the arrogance of the regime, which has succeeded in having its
              cake and eating it. In 1995, the dictatorship announced it had
              released Mrs Suu Kyi from seven years of indefinite house
              arrest. Since then, Rangoon has received credit for releasing Mrs
              Suu Kyi, while continuing to keep her wrapped up. This has
              reflected no credit to the international community at large, which
              refuses to speak out against this unacceptable treatment Burma's
              leading politician. 

              Each of these, and all of them, are warnings from Rangoon of the
              price of dissent. The regime continues to promise to establish
              democracy. But the fact is that the regime cannot tolerate
              criticism. It is determined to hold power at all costs. Last week,
              senior minister David Abel said the junta would return Burma to
              isolation if necessary for the regime to maintain its brutal rule. 

              There is great need to show support for the people of Burma
              now. The UN's Mr Annan must speak out to condemn the death
              sentences imposed on two men who tried to give him
              information. People everywhere must condemn the virtual death
              sentence of grandmother San San. The world, and particularly its
              Asean partners, must inform Burma that it is no longer
              acceptable to make victims of its own people. 


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Last Modified: Mon, May 11, 1998