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Myanmar's junta keeps democracy activist under house arrest

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar's military regime on Tuesday extended the house arrest of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, refusing to bow to international pressure of the sort that persuaded the generals to let in foreign help for cyclone victims.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who has been detained for more than 12 of the past 18 years, had her detention extended by one year, said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Her detention has long been the symbol of the regime's heavy-handed intolerance of democratic opposition to its rule, and there is a worldwide campaign lobbying for her release.

President Bush said he was "deeply troubled" by the extension of Suu Kyi's house arrest but stressed that the U.S. would continue to provide aid for Myanmar's cyclone survivors.

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said he was "was saddened, if not surprised," by the decision to keep her detained.

"While our immediate focus is on relieving the suffering caused by the recent cyclone, restoration of democracy in Burma is still vital for that country's long-term future," Milliband said.

The extension of Suu Kyi's detention came as Myanmar, also known as Burma, was still fending off worldwide criticism for its inadequate aid effort after Cyclone Nargis.

The storm left an estimated 2.4 million people in desperate need of food, shelter and medical care, according to the United Nations. The government says the deluge killed 78,000 people and left 56,000 missing.

Only after intense international pressure and a personal appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who flew to Myanmar last week for talks with the junta's chief, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, did the government relent and agree to let foreign relief workers into the Irrawaddy River delta, the area hit hardest by the cyclone.

"International aid workers are starting to move to the delta," Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian effort, said Tuesday. Helicopters also began shuttling high-energy biscuits and ready-to-eat meals into the hardest hit area Tuesday, he said in Bangkok, Thailand.

Myanmar's leaders are leery of foreign aid workers and international agencies because they fear an influx of outsiders could undermine their control. The junta is also hesitant to have its people see aid coming directly from countries such as the United States, which it has long treated as a hostile power seeking to invade or colonize.

But the Suu Kyi, daughter of the country's martyred independence leader, Gen. Aung San, has long been regarded by the generals as the biggest threat to their power.

Her National League for Democracy party is the country's largest legal opposition group, and it retains the loyalty of millions of citizens despite two decades of repression.

The party won the most seats in 1990 elections, but the military refused to convene parliament. Instead, it harassed and arrested members of the party, setting a pattern that still stands.


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