Saturday, August 8, 2009

Burmese Opposition Unites at UN

UNITED NATIONS — Exiled opposition leaders from Burma came together at the UN on Friday to present a plan for a democratic future in their homeland and ask the UN to transmit it to the country's military rulers.

The opposition leaders called for the release of Nobel Prize-winning pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, a dialogue with the regime, credible elections in 2010 and a review of the constitution adopted last year.

A supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi takes part in a demonstration in Tokyo on August 8. The protest was held in conjunction with the anniversary of the "8888" democracy uprising on August 8th, 1988 in Burma. (Photo: Reuters)
The alliance of political parties and ethnic groups asked the UN Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to send its reconciliation plan to the military regime in Burma.

Suu Kyi is on trial for violating the terms of her house arrest after an uninvited American man swam to her lakeside home without permission in May, just before her detention was to end. Opposition leaders say the junta is using the incident to extend her detention ahead of next year's elections.

The charges against 64-year-old Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 14 of the last 20 years, have refocused international outrage on Burma, which has been ruled by its military since 1962. Suu Kyi's opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Burmese generals refused to relinquish power.

Sein Win, a cousin of Suu Kyi and head of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, which describes itself as the country's government-in-exile, called her trial a "mockery of justice."

He said the regime "has made a lot of promises, but if you look at the facts, it's not getting any better" as human rights are violated, villages are destroyed and the country becomes more militarized. He condemned the regime's purported nuclear ambitions.

In Burma on Friday, the regime said it arrested 15 people and accused foreign-based opposition groups and terrorists of plotting explosions during Ban's visit last month and trying to disrupt Suu Kyi's trial.

Jeremy Woodrum, co-founder of the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma, said it's significant that Burma's diverse political and ethnic groups joined in support of the reconciliation initiative.

He said the Security Council should focus on issues it has ignored like the use of child soldiers, the rape of women from minority ethnic groups, forced labor and the destruction of villages.

An arms embargo would severely undermine the military regime, he said.

The opposition's reconciliation program says the country faces a "constitutional crisis."

Woodrum called the constitution an "air-tight" framework for ensuring the military continues to dominate all levers of power, no matter the outcome of any election. The military will appoint 25 percent of the seats in parliament and can easily remove members who act independently, he said.

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