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US condems Suu Kyi sentence, UN divided


Latest update : 2009-08-14

US President Barack Obama has condemned Aung San Suu Kyi's extended detention but the UN Security Council broke up an emergency meeting with no condemnation of Burma's military junta.

AFP - US President Barack Obama led a global wave of outrage at Aung San Suu Kyi's extended detention but the UN Security Council broke up an emergency meeting with no condemnation of military-run Myanmar.

Obama called for the democracy leader's "immediate, unconditional release" after veteran strongman Than Shwe's junta Tuesday prolonged her house arrest for another 18 months at the climax of a marathon trial.

But the Security Council, which counts China and Russia among its five veto-wielding members, failed to sign off on a US-drafted statement condemning a verdict that removed Suu Kyi from the stage for Myanmar elections next year.

Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers, who is chairing the council this month, said some delegations insisted on sending the draft statement to their capitals for instructions and that debate would resume Wednesday.

US Ambassador Susan Rice conceded that other council members may take "different views" on the controversy, a sign that Myanmar backers such as China and Russia might seek to dilute the statement.

A prison court in Yangon convicted the 64-year-old Suu Kyi of breaching the terms of her detention, following a bizarre incident in which an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside home in May.

The Nobel peace laureate has been confined for much of the past 20 years, since the military regime refused to recognise her National League for Democracy's landslide victory in the last elections held in 1990.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said the trial was designed solely to stop Suu Kyi "from waging her struggle for a democratic and free Burma". The European Union threatened new sanctions against the junta.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, Myanmar's former colonial power, denounced the "sham trial" and called on the Security Council to impose a worldwide embargo on the sale of arms to the junta.

However, the Than Shwe regime has proven impervious to existing US and EU sanctions. China and Thailand had yet to comment on the Suu Kyi verdict, and other Asian powerbrokers such as India were measured in their reactions.

Singapore said it was disappointed at the court's verdict, but it said Than Shwe's decision to commute an initial prison sentence of three years to house arrest was a positive sign.

Malaysia demanded an urgent meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar.

But ASEAN as a whole has rejected imposing sanctions on Myanmar, saying they have not worked and that the regional bloc prefers a policy of "constructive engagement" with the regime.

Suu Kyi was convicted along with two female aides and John Yettaw, 54, the epileptic former US military veteran who swam to her home, was sentenced to seven years of hard labour and imprisonment on three charges.

Obama said Yettaw's punishment was out of "proportion with his actions" and demanded also the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners held in Myanmar's notorious jails.

The president said the "unjust" sentence against Suu Kyi would never be able to stamp out the people of Myanmar's desire for freedom.

"I join the international community in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate, unconditional release," Obama said in a statement, arguing the junta was betraying "continued disregard for UN Security Council statements".

"Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away," he added.

At the Security Council, the United States pushed for a text condemning the conviction and stressing "grave concern about the political impact this action has on the situation in Myanmar" ahead of the elections.

Critics say that next year's planned vote is a sham designed to rubber-stamp the junta's grip on power.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply disappointed" by the Suu Kyi verdict.

"Unless she and all other political prisoners in Myanmar are released and allowed to participate in free and fair elections, the credibility of the political process will remain in doubt," Ban said.

Date created : 2009-08-12