Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Opposition alliance marks Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday

Monday, 21 June 2010 13:40 Perry Santanachote

Bangkok (Mizzima) – The Ten Alliances of Burma, a movement for democracy and ethnic rights, joined the people around the world in marking opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday, two days early. Activists and friends of the opposition gathered on Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand to honour “The Lady” and her vision for a peaceful and democratic Burma.

The Nobel Peace laureate remains under house arrest after spending around 15 of the past 21 years held by the Burmese junta in various forms of detention. Agence France-Presse reported that Suu Kyi spent her birthday yesterday at her lakeside villa in Rangoon, where she lives with two female assistants, under guard and cut off from the world without phone or internet access. She remains an unflagging icon for the country’s struggle against oppression.

65-suukyi-brithday2sThe Ten Alliances also used the event to present the results of its “People’s Elections”, a worldwide campaign that commemorated the anniversary of the landslide victory of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, in the 1990 elections.

On May 27, 2010, Burmese communities in more than 20 countries demonstrated against the ruling military junta’s proposed upcoming election in their home country. In a “Global Day of Action”, Burmese activists in exile protested against what they coined a “military selection” by holding their own polls. They handed out and collected nearly 40,000 ballots – each a simple face-off between Suu Kyi and junta leader Senior General Than Shwe – to send to Asean and international ambassadors along with a plea to denounce the junta’s elections.

Thwin Linn Aung, co-ordinator of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions foreign affairs team who is also an organiser of the Global Day of Action, said: “The main hope is for the international community to mount pressure on the military regime to meet our causes … one is to release all political prisoners, the second is to stop the attacks in ethnic areas and the third is to have dialogue that includes constitutional review.”

“If these causes are not met, we want the international community to denounce the 2010 election and not recognise its results,” Thwin Linn Aung said.

Canadian ambassador Ron Hoffman was presented with ballot postcards from his country at the event; representatives from the American and Czech embassies were also present to accept ballots from their respective countries.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who very much identify with Aung San Suu Kyi and the great ideals she’s pursuing,” Hoffman said. “Today we reaffirm our commitment to carry this collective struggle forward. Canada has and will continue to impose the toughest sanctions in the world on Burma’s military regime.”

The United States was also represented. George Kent, political counsellor for the US embassy in Bangkok compared the junta’s treatment of Suu Kyi to that experienced by under the apartheid regime by Nelson Mandela in South Africa, in that she is the key to resolving the country’s challenges.

“It’s simply tragic for the people of Burma and the country that Burma’s generals have rebuffed her efforts and her unshakable commitment to work together to find a peaceful path towards a more prosperous future for the country,” Kent said. “Like Nelson Mandela 20 years ago when he walked out of prison and a now prosperous South Africa [is] successfully hosting the World Cup, Daw Suu [Kyi] could be the greatest possible partner for the regime to manage a successful transition to a better future without recriminations or revenge.” (Daw is the Burmese honorific used to refer to mature women or women in a senior position.)

Kraisak Choonhavan, a Thai member of parliament and president of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar (Burma) Caucus, began his speech stating his frustrations with the stalemate in Thai-Burmese relations. His grouping of lawmakers from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia have continuously called for the unconditional release of Suu Kyi and freedom for the more than 2,100 political prisoners in Burma.

“We’re getting used to this almost-permanency of oppression in Burma,” he said. “This is very, very sad because there’s absolutely no chance for us to combine a real effort of development between the two countries without harming the people of Burma. Every single project that we have seems to hurt the people in Burma more than it would help.”

Choonhavan lamented that dialogue with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – the junta’s name for itself – had not worked and neither had sanctions, which he said had failed because of greedy businessmen in pursuit of Burma’s natural resources.

“Who am I to say that?” he added. “Thailand is the biggest income-giver to Burma in the world. We buy gas from Burma and to a certain extent we are supporting the SPDC. I have to speak the truth.”

“We support millions of Burmese that live in Thailand too,” he added. “But not enough.”

Statistics support his claim. According to a Thai-Burma Border Consortium survey in April, the 10 camps the alliance of NGOs runs in Thailand house about 140,000 refugees as of April 30. The US State Department says the Thai government has issued temporary work permits to more than one million Burmese who live outside the refugee camps, but migrant worker rights groups estimate that a further million Burmese are undocumented workers in Thailand.

The mood at the event however was mostly cheerful, especially as everyone gathered to blow out candles on the birthday cake for Suu Kyi – a common wish being that she would celebrate her 66th in freedom.

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