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Activists on Tuesday marked the 62nd birthday of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi by calling for her immediate release.
The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, a network of civil society groups, said it has submitted a petition to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seeking Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom.
Military-ruled Myanmar is a member of ASEAN along with Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
ASEAN’s more developed states have urged Myanmar to release the Nobel laureate and push through with promised democratic reforms, saying its refusal to do so has damaged the regional bloc’s international image.
The United States, European Union and rights groups have accused Myanmar’s ruling junta of political repression and massive human rights abuses.
The petition was read out in Singapore, where activists unfurled a 30 metre (100-foot) long banner with the words, “Happy Birthday Aung San Suu Kyi!”
“Her release is so important. The whole country look up to her and she is the one who really inspires the country,” said Khin Ohmar, a Myanmar activist who has been in exile for 18 years.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent more than 11 of the last 18 years in various forms of detention. Her party, National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but the junta never allowed it to take office.
The military government, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, extended Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest by another year in May.
A Myanmar national holds up a banner commemorating the pro-democracy activist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
20 Jun 07
Myanmar opposition leader and democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi spent another birthday under house arrest on Tuesday, as her supporters released doves and balloons to accompany prayers for her release.
To mark her 62nd birthday, around 300 supporters gathered at the dilapidated headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won an election landslide victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the military junta.
The NLD reiterated its demand for the immediate and unconditional release of Suu Kyi, as well as the other 1,100 political prisoners believed to be behind bars in the former Burma.
As with countless other pleas on countless other “milestones” during Suu Kyi’s 17 years of on-off detention, it is certain to fall on deaf ears.
Plain-clothes security police, their long-lens cameras clicking away, kept close watch over the NLD ceremony from across the road.
A dozen trucks filled with members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association – the official name of the junta’s political wing – sat nearby.
In Manila, 20 people protested outside the Myanmar embassy, and there were similar scenes in New Delhi on Monday evening.
However, there were no demonstrations in Thailand, the traditional center of the Myanmar dissident movement, for fear of repercussions from the military regime now in charge in Bangkok.
In the United States, first lady Laura Bush published an essay in the Wall Street Journal urging support for Suu Kyi and her followers. She described plans to meet with the U.N. Special Envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, to discuss “how the international community can hold the generals to account.”
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a news conference the United States would work on “many, many different fronts” to keep Myanmar on the international agenda.
“It requires everybody’s effort and it requires concerted pressure from all parties involved,” he said.
Support by China, India under fire
T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA said the missing ingredient in the global campaign was pressure on China and India to end their political and material support for Yangon.
“We should make a pledge today that we will target these two countries to make sure they back off,” he told a rally in the U.S. Capitol building attended by key lawmakers.
Suu Kyi’s confinement in her lakeside home in Yangon was extended for another year in May despite international pleas to the generals to end her latest detention, which began in 2003.
The Nobel peace laureate has now been confined for more than 11 of the past 17 years, with her telephone line cut and no visitors allowed apart from her maid and doctor.
“In our view, until their constitution is ratified, she will not be released,” said Sann Aung, a Bangkok-based leader of the government-in-exile set up after the junta ignored the 1990 election results.
The generals have promised a referendum on the new constitution and eventual elections but refused to set a timetable. Critics call it a sham aimed at entrenching military control over Myanmar’s 54 million people.
Sanctions imposed by the West have had little effect on the military, which has ruled Myanmar in various guises since 1962.
Neither has the soft diplomacy employed by Myanmar’s partners in the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has been embarrassed by the junta’s intransigence.
“Today, Burma is the black sheep of ASEAN,” Thailand’s Nation newspaper said in an editorial. “As long as Aung San Suu Kyi remains incarcerated, ASEAN’s reputation and the group’s international standing will be tarnished.