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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Burma visit's crumb of comfort

By Larry Jagan
BBC Burma analyst

After five days of protracted negotiations with Burma's military rulers, United Nations envoy Razali Ismail has finally been allowed to see opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"She's in good spirits and uninjured - not even a scratch on her face," he reportedly told journalists in Rangoon before he left.

Mr Razali was taken to a secret location - believed to be a government guesthouse - although even his close aides were not privy to the meeting place.

United Nations envoy Razali Ismail
Razali Ismail's main aim was to visit Aung San Suu Kyi
The UN envoy met the opposition leader for exactly 30 minutes, in the presence of military intelligence officer Brigadier General Than Tun.

For Mr Razali, getting access to Aung San Suu Kyi was the primary aim of his mission.

At least now the international community knows that she is safe and unharmed, after what diplomats have called a premeditated assault on her and her supporters by "government-sponsored thugs" on Friday 30 May, which has become known in Burma as Black Friday.

Lack of information

Apart from gaining access to the opposition leader, though, Mr Razali has come away with little else.

He has not managed to find out the conditions under which the opposition leader is being held, nor when she might be released.

And he has no information about other pro-democracy leaders who have been detained or are under house arrest.

"As usual the junta has given the minimum at the very last minute," said a Western diplomat who declined to be identified.

Aung San Suu Kyi gives a news conference at her National League for Democracy (NLD) party headquarters in Rangoon, 23 April 2003
1990: National League for Democracy (NLD) wins general election while Suu Kyi under house arrest; military does not recognise the result
1991: Wins Nobel Peace Prize
1995: Released from house arrest, but movements restricted
2000-02: Second period of house arrest
May 2003: Detained after clash between NLD and government forces

"But what we need, above all else, is Aung San Suu Kyi's account of what happened - a definitive account of the violent events on Black Friday," he said.

The government insists that Aung San Suu Kyi and her party were responsible for the violence in which they claim only four people died.

This runs in the face of eyewitness accounts and a US embassy investigation at the site of the incident.

"There is no doubt that Aung San Suu Kyi was ambushed," said a senior US official.

"It was a well planned and co-ordinated attack on unarmed opposition supporters, by some 600 thugs wielding clubs and sharpened bamboo stakes - usually used to kill pigs - intended to cause real harm," he said.

"The evidence from the site investigation is extremely disturbing," said a senior US diplomat.

So while Aung San Suu Kyi may be uninjured after all - as the government claimed all along - its version of the incident is still unlikely to convince many people.

Radical reform

The dialogue process which Mr Razali helped broker between the Burmese generals and Aung San Suu Kyi is obviously in real trouble.

When she was released from house arrest last year on 6 May, the military authorities assured her that she was free to travel wherever she wanted in the country, and that her National League for Democracy could resume normal political activities.

The situation in Burma has now deteriorated so much that demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi is no longer sufficient - nothing short of real political change will satisfy the international community.

The US and Europe will now be more rigorous in their efforts to get Asian governments to pressure Rangoon to introduce economic and political reform.

The US has already lodged strong protests to Beijing and Bangkok over their support for the military junta.

The Japanese Government has already warned Burma that unless Aung San Suu Kyi is released, and her freedom guaranteed, Tokyo may be forced to suspend all its development aid to Burma.

There is no doubt that Burma is now going to be at the top of the agenda at next week's Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) foreign ministers' summit and regional forum in Phnom Penh.

"Asean is obliged to discuss Burma at these meetings, as we welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi's release last time," said Cambodia's foreign minister Hor Nam Hong, who is co-ordinating the agenda for both the summit and the forum.

Most Asean countries now accept that they cannot avoid talking about the problems of Burma collectively, despite the Asean principle of non-intervention.

"The events in Burma are now an international matter," Thai Foreign Minister Dr Surakiart Sathirathai reportedly told his Japanese counterpart Yoriko Kawaguchi.

Burma may yet find itself increasingly isolated unless it starts serious political talks with Aung San Suu Kyi soon.


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