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West condemns charges against Aung San Suu Kyi

Latest update : 2009-05-15

Western governments have blasted the new charges brought against Burma's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, calling them "disturbing" and an excuse to prolong her detention under house arrest.

AFP - Western governments on Thursday condemned "disturbing" new charges brought against Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the junta which has kept her under prolonged house arrest wanted any excuse to extend her detention while the European Union said moving the Nobel Peace Prize winner to a prison could not be justified.

The United States said it was "troubled" by the development but there was no immediate response from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the regional bloc which includes the country formerly known as Burma.

"I am deeply disturbed that Aung San Suu Kyi may be charged with breaching the terms of her detention," Brown said in a statement.

"The Burmese regime is clearly intent on finding any pretext, no matter how tenuous, to extend her unlawful detention," he said.

"If the 2010 elections are to have any semblance of credibility, she and all political prisoners must be freed to participate."

Aung San Suu Kyi, 63, who was stopped by the junta from taking power after winning an election in 1990, has been charged with breaching the terms of her house arrest after a US man swam across a lake and hid inside her home.

She will go on trial on Monday on the charges, which carry a maximum jail term of five years and would stretch her detention past its supposed expiry date this month and through elections due in 2010.

The UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar called for Aung San Suu Kyi to be freed and said the incident at her home was the responsibility of the authorities.

"Since her house is well guarded by security forces, the responsibility for preventing such intrusions, and alerting the authorities, lies with the security forces and not with Aung San Suu Kyi and her aides," said Tomas Ojea Quintana.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her two maids appeared in court at the notorious Insein Prison near Yangon, hours after police whisked her away from the residence where she has been detained for most of the past two decades.

Piero Fassino, the European Union's special envoy to Myanmar, said there was "no justification" for the decision to charge her.

Fassino said the international community should use "every possible means to press for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi" as well as "the 2,000 other political prisoners who are held in Burmese jails."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and human rights minister Rama Yade issued a joint statement condemning the arrest "in the strongest terms".

"This decision is all the more unacceptable given the Nobel Peace laureate's state of health which has deteriorated over the past several days," they said.

In Norway, where Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel prize in 1991, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said he was "disturbed" by the charges and demanded her immediate release.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called the developments "troubling", according to the State Department.

"We have seen this report, which is certainly troubling if true," spokesman Ian Kelly said.

The chorus of official condemnation in the West however was in sharp contrast to the reaction in Asia.

Calls and emails to the Jakarta secretariat of ASEAN were not immediately answered and there was no immediate official reaction from Myanmar's eastern neighbour and ally China, nor any Asian governments.

ASEAN has long been wary of criticising Myanmar but the 10-nation club has found itself embarrassed by the regime, led by the reclusive General Than Shwe.

During an ASEAN summit in Thailand last month, Myanmar threatened to boycott a meeting with human rights advocates if a Myanmar activist was present. The activist was not allowed into the session.

At the summit, leaders urged Myanmar's junta to move towards democracy but Aung San Suu Kyi's name was never mentioned.

In Japan, dozens of pro-democracy campaigners rallied to demand her release.

"Free Suu Kyi!" chanted more than 60 expatriates from Myanmar in front of the country's embassy in Tokyo, holding banners that read: "The military junta should stop oppression with its unfair trial!"

Date created : 2009-05-14