By Simon Roughneen in Penang
Senior members of Burma’s National league for Democracy (NLD) – the party led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and which won the country’s last election in 1990 – have criticised US initiatives in Burma.
Following a visit to Burma (now known as Myanmar) last month, US Democrat Senator Jim Webb said it was his ‘‘impression’’ that Suu Kyi was open to new ideas about sanctions – a suggestion which her lawyer disputed. U Win Tin, a senior NLD figure who spent more than 20 years in jail in Burma, wrote in the Washington Post that Webb’s visit and subsequent pronouncements were ‘‘damaging to our democracy movement’’.
A Burmese court last month sentenced Suu Kyi to three years in prison with hard labour for breach of her house arrest terms. This was commuted to 18 months’ house arrest by military leader Senior General Than Shwe.
Her offence was to ‘host’ American John Yettaw, who swam across the lake next to Suu Kyi’s Rangoon home in May, and was arrested by Burmese police on his return two days later. The sentence means that Suu Kyi will still be under house arrest when Burma stages elections next year.
Those elections will take place under a new constitution, approved in a referendum held days after Cyclone Nargis killed around 135,000 Burmese in May 2008.The constitution earmarks a quarter of the parliament’s seats for the army, and many retired military are forming political parties to contest the remaining seats.
The NLD and groups representing Burma’s 135 minorities have not decided whether to contest the elections, which they say give a civilian veneer to the army, which has ruled Burma since 1962.
During his visit, Webb met Shwe and Suu Kyi, and secured the release of Yettaw, but could not persuade the junta to free Suu Kyi or the country’s 2,200 political prisoners. These are among conditions laid down by the US for a relaxation of Clinton and Bush-era sanctions, renewed by Obama last July.
Supporters of the sanctions say pressure should be put on countries such as Thailand and Singapore to support the US moves. Burma earns around US$3 billion a year from gas sales to Thailand, and banks the proceeds in Singapore.
Burma Action Ireland will stage a public demonstration at O’Connell Bridge, Dublin, from 4.30pm tomorrow to mark the second anniversary of Burma’s ‘Saffron RevolutionShow