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August 11, 09

NEWS / Obama, Clinton Condemn Sentencing of Burmas Aung San Suu Kyi

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — The decision by Burma’s ruling military to convict and sentence Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 additional months of house arrest is “unjust” and violates universal human rights principles, said President Obama, who calls for the veteran democracy leader and other Burmese political prisoners to be set free.

“Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away,” the president said in an August 11 statement. “I call on the Burmese regime to heed the views of its own people and the international community and to work towards genuine national reconciliation.”

The Burmese ruling military junta’s decision also runs counter to the country’s commitment to human rights as a signatory to the charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and shows its “continued disregard” for U.N. Security Council statements on Burma, Obama said. Obama called for Suu Kyi’s “immediate, unconditional release.”

Suu Kyi was charged with violating the terms of her previous house arrest by reportedly allowing American John Yettaw to enter her home after he had swum uninvited across a lake to get to her residence. According to news reports, Yettaw was convicted of violating Burmese immigration and municipal laws as well as violating the terms of Suu Kyi’s house arrest.

Yettaw was reportedly sentenced to seven years in prison, including four years of hard labor, which Obama described as “a punishment out of proportion with his actions.”

The president said the Burmese military’s decision serves as a reminder of the country’s other political prisoners who should be freed. They “have been denied their liberty because of their pursuit of a government that respects the will, rights and aspirations of all Burmese citizens,” he said.

Speaking from Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Suu Kyi “should not have been tried and she should not have been convicted.”

At an August 11 press availability, Clinton said Burmese elections scheduled for 2010 “will have absolutely no legitimacy” unless the military leadership chooses to “immediately end its repression of so many in this country, [and] start a dialogue with the opposition and the ethnic groups” in the country.

More than 2,000 political prisoners are being held in Burma and should be released, including Suu Kyi and Yettaw, she said. The secretary described Yettaw’s sentence as being “harsh … especially in light of his medical condition.” Yettaw reportedly suffers from diabetes and other illnesses.

Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won Burma’s 1990 elections, was prevented from becoming prime minister by Burma’s ruling military junta and has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. Her previous house arrest detention was to have ended in May and, under Burmese law, could not have been extended again.

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington August 11 that the Burmese junta’s action was “completely unacceptable.”

“Based on the facts of the case, in essence she was convicted of being polite. This is a thinly veiled effort by the Burmese government to keep her on the sidelines for elections next year,” he said. He described the case as having been “politically driven.”

Burma’s military rulers “are afraid of a 64-year-old woman who probably weighs barely a hundred pounds. But what she represents is an idea that this is government … by the people and on behalf of the people rather than government by the few for the benefit of the few,” Crowley said.

The Obama administration has been conducting a review of U.S. policy toward Burma. Crowley said the review is ongoing and did not have a timeline for its completion, but said the conviction and sentencing “clearly … will have a negative effect” on it.

“There is an opportunity for a different kind of relationship” between Burma and the United States as well as with the rest of the international community, he said. “Clearly we feel this is a step in the wrong direction.”

Crowley added that U.S. officials will soon be having conversations “with anyone who both has an interest in what is happening in Burma as well as anyone we think has an influence with Burma” in order to express the Obama administration’s concerns and its view that the Burmese military’s action is unacceptable.


Tags: secretary of state,


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