U.S. Warns Myanmar for Impeding Dissident
A standoff in Myanmar between Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and security forces blocking her from visiting supporters entered a fourth day Monday, prompting Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to lash out at the military regime and warn of a political “explosion.”
Since Friday, Suu Kyi and two other people have been sitting in a white sedan in the steamy, tropical sun on the road to Anyargu, a village about 60 miles southwest of the capital, Yangon. Security forces ordered Myanmar’s leading dissident, who was heading to a meeting with members of her opposition National League for Democracy, to turn back.
She has refused, and security forces continued Monday to surround the car.
Albright, in a speech here to foreign ministers from 21 countries, warned that Myanmar has reached “a moment of truth.” The behavior of the military-led government has deteriorated over the past year, she said, to the point that it increasingly threatens the stability of the region.
“With each passing day, the likelihood of a social breakdown--or explosion--that would undermine regional stability grows higher, the likelihood that a future government will be able to tackle Burma’s problems becomes smaller,” she told the annual meeting of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, using the former name of Myanmar.
“This is a moment of truth and of urgency for Burma and for all of us concerned about its fate,” she said. Albright said the ASEAN nation is a “great and growing distress” because of the high number of arrests there, its deteriorating economy, the latest clampdown on the political opposition’s freedom of movement, and the loss of a “whole generation” of young people with the closure of universities and high schools.
Albright also warned about the flow of heroin and other drugs from Myanmar and blasted a government that treats drug traffickers “like honored citizens,” while citizens who speak out for a more lawful society are treated as criminals.
At a hastily organized news conference later, an angry Albright said the United States holds authorities in Myanmar “directly responsible” for ensuring the health and welfare of Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
“Freedom of movement is fundamental, and its denial can only increase the already dangerous state of tension in Burma,” Albright said.
This is the third time in three weeks that Suu Kyi has been blocked on a trip to outlying villages or towns to meet with members of her party, which was prevented from assuming power in parliament after it swept democratic elections in 1990.
Authorities put Suu Kyi under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and have restricted her movement since then.
Myanmar’s ruling State Peace and Development Council charged Monday that the dissident’s recent actions were “a concerted and timely fashioned action for overseas consumption.” An official statement said Suu Kyi was acting in collusion with Western embassies.
A government officer told Reuters that he believed Suu Kyi had enough food and water to spend a week in the car.
Albright decided to speak out after the Myanmar delegate failed to respond to concern expressed by others at the ASEAN regional forum, a gathering that includes foreign ministers from the alliance’s nine members and from 12 other nations.
Albright also expressed deep concern Monday over the arrests of about 20 dissidents in China since President Clinton’s visit there in June. In a private meeting here with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, the secretary said Washington is concerned about the arrests--as well as China’s failure to release other detainees.
Albright also expressed to Tang the Clinton administration’s disappointment that Beijing has not carried out a pledge made at the U.S.-China summit to give a date for when it will sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
But Tang did offer new assurances that China will follow through on a promise to stop targeting nuclear weapons at the United States, though he would not say whether Beijing had taken the step. China is estimated to have 13 operational missiles aimed at the United States and five at other countries.
In a blunt warning to allies in Asia, Albright also told the ASEAN gathering that many of the participants urgently need to take “difficult actions” to reverse an economic crisis that is crippling the region.
“We cannot wish the economic crisis away. We have to face it squarely, take the difficult actions we all know are necessary, and admit what the evidence of the last year clearly shows--that there are no easy answers,” she said.
While the region will eventually recover, she said the real question is “whether it will emerge stronger, more open, more democratic, better equipped to meet new challenges. Our friends in the region have an opportunity to build a better Southeast Asia. America hopes they will seize it.”