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    Volume 9 Issue 26| June 25, 2010|

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She needs more than just Tributes

Aung San Suu Kyi

As Myanmar pro-democracy and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her 65th birthday last Saturday in incarceration in her dilapidated lakeside compound in Yangon, calls for her freedom reverberated across the world.

In a birthday message, US President Barack Obama hailed Suu Kyi's "determination, courage and personal sacrifice in working for human rights and democratic change".

"I once again call on the Burmese (Myanmar) government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally and to allow them to build a more stable, prosperous Burma that respects the rights of all its citizens," he said.

Same messages were conveyed by other world leaders, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who in a rare departure from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (Asean) policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs, called on the Myanmar junta to embrace democracy and hoped that the electoral reforms adopted in Myanmar this year would involve all political players.

Despite overwhelming tributes and peace vigils over the world, the fact of the matter is that Suu Kyi has now spent 15 birthdays in detention over the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest. She is the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner.

This clearly highlights the failure of the international community to exert pressure on the military junta and extract something tangible. The US policy of imposing unilateral trade and investment sanctions against Myanmar has proven to be a failure on all fronts as they (sanctions) have done nothing to improve the living conditions or human rights of the people of Myanmar. For its (Myanmar's) military it's business as usual. The suppression of basic human rights and freedom of speech continues unabated.

According to Amnesty International, pro-democracy activists and ethnic minority groups face systematic repression by the military authorities, including through arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, imprisonment, torture and extrajudicial executions. It says that since the start of the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007 the number of political prisoners has doubled.

Amidst such conditions, the junta plans to hold historic elections for later this year -- the first in two decades. However, Suu Kyi's party, which overwhelmingly won the last election in 1990, will not be taking part. Under new election laws, Suu Kyi and other political prisoners -- estimated at more than 2,000 -- are effectively barred from taking part in the polls.

The newly-established government-controlled election panel has been given the power to prevent or annul voting in any part of the country for "security reasons". The international community, including Myanmar's influential neighbours such as China, India and Japan and the Asean countries has called for the forthcoming elections to be "free and fair".

The question is how free and fair elections can be held under the present regime which has barred a prominent political player from public life. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has rightly boycotted the polls because under such conditions, the polls will be anything but fair and free.

With each passing year one does not see any sign of flexibility in the attitude of the military junta and Suu Kyi continues to remain in detention. If the international community wants to pay real tribute to the world's most famous prisoner of conscience it needs to do more than just praise her steely determination and willpower. Suu Kyi's dedication to non-violence in pressing for change has placed her along with Nelson Mandela.

The world needs to exert the same kind of pressure on the military junta, which was applied against the apartheid regime of South Africa. Otherwise, Suu Kyi will again celebrate her next birthday in detention and we will witness customary condemnation of the junta and tributes paid to her fight for democracy in her country.

--Editorial Desk
The Brunei Times.

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