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UN council calls on Myanmar to release of Suu Kyi

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UN council calls on Myanmar to release of Suu Kyi


UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council agreed after two days of talks to issue a statement Thursday calling on Myanmar’s military government to immediately release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners.

The council’s 15 member nations voiced “serious concern at the conviction and sentencing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and its political impact” and reaffirmed three previous statements since 2007. “Daw” is a term of respect for older women.

They also urged the ruling junta to begin a genuine dialogue with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and other political parties and ethnic groups. A Myanmar court on Tuesday convicted the Nobel Peace Prize laureate of violating the terms of her previous house arrest by sheltering an uninvited American visitor.

In a nod to Myanmar’s colonial past, the council’s member nations again pledged a commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Myanmar, also known as Burma, but said that “the future of Myanmar lies in the hands of all of its people.”

The U.N. estimates there are 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi’s sentence of three years in prison with hard labor was reduced to 18 months of house arrest, ensuring the pro-democracy leader cannot participate in the military junta’s planned elections next year.

The council press statement — which is not legally binding — was read aloud outside the council chambers by British Ambassador John Sawers, this month’s council president.

The U.S. had drafted a statement asking the council to condemn the conviction and sentencing and to issue it as a presidential statement, meaning it would become part of the Security Council’s official record.

But even a nonbinding press statement, the most that permanent council members China and Russia would allow, was something of a victory for the other three permanent members, Britain, France and the United States. Only permanent members hold veto power.

China had opposed any action, and Russia, Vietnam and Libya had been skeptical of council intervention.

The 64-year-old Suu Kyi has been detained for about 14 of the past 20 years for her nonviolent political activities, but this was the first time she faced a criminal trial. She had been under house arrest since 2003, but was taken to Yangon’s Insein Prison in May for trial after American John Yettaw secretly swam to her house and spent two days there.

As the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Gen. Aung San, who was assassinated when she was 2 years old, Suu Kyi was educated at Oxford University in England and married a British academic in 1972.

In 1988 she rushed back to Burma, later renamed Myanmar, to care for her ailing mother and eventually helped found the National League for Democracy party. She was barred from running in elections called by the junta in May 1990.

Though her party won 392 of 495 seats in parliament, the military refused to honor the results. She became symbol of Myanmar’s suppressed democracy — and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

August 13, 2009 at 7:01 pm

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