Republican News · Thursday 07 September 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Nobel laureate back under house arrest

The Myanmar government of Burma should immediately reveal the whereabouts of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues, who have been held incommunicado since 2 September, says Amnesty International, which has expressed grave concern for their safety.

The Nobel Peace prize winner and 13 of her supporters from the National League of Democracy (NLD) began a nine-day protest on 24 August after the military prevented them from leaving the capital, Rangoon, to attend a political meeting in the countryside. At approximately 1.30am on 2 September, 200 riot police forcibly removed the demonstrators from the roadside. Subsequently, diplomats, the press, and others have been denied access by security forces from any NLD leaders, including Suu Kyi.

The United States has joined the European Union in condemning Burma's use of force to end the stand-off.

Hours after forcing the opposition leader to return home, the Burmese authorities raided the headquarters of Suu Kyi's party. Diplomatic sources say military intelligence officers seized a large number of documents. Similar sources told the French news agency AFP that at least three senior NLD members had been placed under house arrest. The military have prevented diplomats from reaching Suu Kyi's house.

Burma's authorities described her roadside protest as a deliberate confrontation designed to attract world attention and said she had been escorted back to the capital because of concerns about her health and safety and because of monsoon rains.

A government statement said Suu Kyi and the rest of her party had been escorted in a motorcade ``facilitated by the government for their safe and convenient return. They arrived home fit and sound this morning [on Saturday],'' the statement said.

The standoff prompted widespread international condemnation of the restrictions placed by the military authorities on Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom of movement. The government confirmed it had stopped Suu Kyi but said this was for her own protection because her journey did not have ``proper security arrangements''. Security officials, it was claimed, had requested them not to proceed but stay in Dala town or return to Rangoon.

According to the government, due to threats of violence by armed insurgent separatist forces, travel by prominent persons to some parts of the country is at present inadvisable. ``The government will take all necessary action in protecting her from these threats, while also safeguarding her human rights, as much as possible including the right to freedom of movement,'' said a statement.

The NLD won the general elections held in Burma in May 1990, but Burma's military rulers refused to hand over power. Instead, they jailed some party members and placed others under house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the late Burmese nationalist leader, General Aung San, was held under house arrest for six years after the NLD's election victory. Although this detention was lifted in 1995, the military government has maintained restrictions on her movements.

Last 24 August was the first time the 55-year-old Nobel laureate had tried to leave the capital since another stand-off two years ago, which ended after 13 days, when an increasingly poorly and dehydrated Suu Kyi gave up her protest and returned home. On that occasion, Suu Kyi said the military was trying to prevent her meeting supporters outside Rangoon and was violating her freedom of movement.

Tentative peace moves in Colombia

The Colombian government and the nation's biggest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have agreed to start ceasefire talks on 22 September, according to a joint statement issued on Monday, 4 September.

The two sides reached agreement about launching talks on Saturday last, two months after they exchanged sealed-envelope proposals and gave each other 30 days to study the contents separately.

This development follows a week of intense political and armed confrontation around the visit to Colombia of US President Bill Clinton, who visited Colombia on 30 August. He was promoting the US contribution to Plan Colombia, some $1.3bn of mainly military aid supposedly aimed at eradicating coca crops, from which cocaine is derived, from the Latin American country.

The plan is based on the creation of three special anti-narcotics battalions, trained and equipped by US special forces, with 60 helicopters to give the force mobility. They are to be based in Putumayo province and plan to eradicate 60,000 hectares of coca.

Plan Colombia is opposed by farmers, students, social and political activists and human right organisations for various reasons. Farmers are opposed to proposals to eliminate the drug crops by using aerial fumigations. Peasants grow coca as a cash crop alongside pineapples, maize and other subsistence crops. The spray, howevber, is indiscriminate, destroying all crops, like yucca, plantain and rice, leaving behind misery, hunger and displacement for the inhabitants of the fumigated area.

There is also evidence that the chemicals dumped on the fields are damaging the inhabitants, with cases of poisoning being detected immediately after fumigations in different areas. Skin rashes, eye conjunctivitis, and breathing problems are the consequence of having inhaled the toxic chemicals.

The effects of aerial eradication on the environment are also said to be frightening. After fields have been sprayed, only coca, not food crops, can be grown there afterwards. Peasants, having lost their food crops but not their coca plants, which can resume production four months later, are forced to cut down more jungle to replant.

Social and political activists have warned that US military aid will mean an increase in human right abuses and could even open new channels for drug trafficking in the country. Direct US aid to the Colombian army was suspended in 1994 in response to military involvement in torture and other human rights abuses. Plan Colombia designates 80% of the proposed package to military aid.

In February, US-based human rights organisation Human Right Watch, revealed in a report how the Colombian army maintains an intimate relationship with far-right wing paramilitary groups and drug traffickers.

According to this report, in recent years the Colombian army has worked hand in hand with militias funded by drug cartels, sharing intelligence, coordinating joint operations and providing arms and ammunition.

There is a feeling in those sectors opposed to the Plan that this is basically flawed in its understanding of the drug trade. Actiists believe any anti-drugs strategy should tackle the European and US dealers and smugglers, who make more than 1000% profit on the small prices they pay the growers for coca.

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