September 01, 2003—One day after Burma’s newly appointed Prime Minister presented his road map to democracy, the US State Department reported that Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was on a hunger strike.
Suu Kyi is refusing food to protest her illegal detention by the country’s military regime known as the State Peace and Development Council, US State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker said in a statement released yesterday.
The Burmese government did not deny the news of the hunger strike by the Nobel Peace laureate, but said it was "confused" by the reports.
A press release from Rangoon said, "The government as well as governments around the world are confused and we firmly believe it is quite odd for the US State Department to make such a claim without stating any sources to verify its allegation."
Burma’s pro-democracy leader was taken into "protective custody" on May 30, shortly after her convoy was ambushed by government-backed thugs. Authorities have refused to reveal where Suu Kyi is being held. Representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the UN Special Envoy to Burma Razali Ismail were granted access to Suu Kyi, and reported that she was in good health.
"The timing is very convenient," a veteran journalist in Rangoon said of Suu Kyi’s decision to go on a hunger strike after the Prime Minister’s first address. "Though we cannot confirm [news of the strike], it is possible that she went on a hunger strike to show that she is unhappy with Khin Nyunt’s speech."
In an address on Saturday morning, new Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt outlined the junta’s road map. He said Burma would resume the National Convention, which was adjourned in 1996, and that "free and fair" elections would be held after the drafting a new constitution.
This courageous leader of the National League for Democracy and proponent of non-violent political change, has placed herself at risk on many occasions in pursuit of democracy and respect for basic human rights in Burma.
In Burma’s last free elections, held in 1990, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide, but the results was never honored. Khin Nyunt mentioned Suu Kyi’s name only in a criticism of her party’s boycott of the National Convention six years ago.
"Many in Rangoon were disappointed with Khin Nyunt’s speech," a journalist in Rangoon said. Pro-democracy forces see Khin Nyunt’s road map as a dead-end which excludes Suu Kyi and the NLD.
Rangoon-based political observers who are close to the NLD told The Irrawaddy that veteran politicians held a meeting this morning to discuss Suu Kyi’s health and the current political deadlock.
They expressed great concern for her health and asked the junta to open a dialogue with Suu Kyi. They asked the government to stop her from staging the hunger strike, and even issued a plea to Suu Kyi herself to quit her strike. The statement was signed by the veteran politicians, some of who are in their 90s, and sent to junta chairman and now President, Sr-Gen Than Shwe, and Khin Nyunt this afternoon.
Saturday also marked three months since her arrest and US government officials claim Suu Kyi is protesting her ongoing detention.
"We are deeply concerned for her safety and well-being," Reeker said. "This courageous leader of the National League for Democracy and proponent of non-violent political change, has placed herself at risk on many occasions in pursuit of democracy and respect for basic human rights in Burma."
The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said it will try to visit Suu Kyi but it cannot confirm if she is on a hunger strike. After the ICRC first visited Suu Kyi under detention, the junta agreed that ICRC would be allowed to see her again.
Washington has been the regime’s toughest critic since Suu Kyi's arrest on May 30. Last week, stiff US sanctions came into effect, crippling Burmese trade. The US government called for the immediate release of Suu Kyi and all political prisoners; and urged the regime to enter into serious political dialogue with Burma’s political parties.
Kyaw submitted from www.irrawady.org