Burma arrests Suu Kyi supporters on her birthday

Rangoon (dpa) - Burmese authorities on Thursday arrested at least 30 supporters of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who had gathered to protest her five years of imprisonment on her birthday, eye witnesses said.

A group of National League for Democracy (NLD) members gathered outside their party headquarters in Rangoon to mark Suu Kyi's 63rd birthday which falls on Thursday by releasing 63 sparrows and shouting "Free Aung San Suu Kyi."

Seven government cars arrived shortly after the protest began and rounded up at least eight NLD members, including one Buddhist monk, taking them away to an unknown destination, security personnel confirmed.

Several of the protesters ran into the NLD headquarters avoiding arrest, eye witnesses said.

Suu Kyi, the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been kept under house arrest in near complete isolation since May 2003. One May 27, the junta extended her house detention for another year.

Political activists in Burma have used Suu Kyi's birthday to highlight the lack of democratic progress in the country, which last month was hit by Cyclone Nargis, arguably shifting international attention to the resulting humanitarian catastrophe.

On Wednesday the All Burma Monks' Alliance, one of the organizers of anti-government protests in September, last year, appealed to the European Union council, which was scheduled to meet Thursday in Brussels, to refocus on Burma's ongoing political plight.

"We request the EU to bring Than Shwe, leader of the Burmese military junta, before the International Criminal Court to be tried for his crimes against humanity, as recommended by the European Parliament," said the All Burma Monks' Alliance.

The alliance appealed to the 27 Heads of State from the EU Council "to assist Burma's democracy movement led by detained leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi."

The junta, headed by Senior General Than Shwe, drew international fury for its brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks last September and more recently for its callousness in handling disaster relief for some 2.4 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis, that smashed in to the country's central coastal region on May 2-3 leaving at least 133,000 people dead or missing.

Although Burma has accepted international aid, during the first two weeks of the cyclone catastrophe authorities placed tight restrictions on granting visas for foreign relief experts, apparently concerned that an inflow of foreigners might affect their national referendum held on May 10 and 25 to endorse a new constitution that institutionalizes military rule in the country.

"The Burmese military junta has used the devastated situation of the people of Burma after the attack of Cyclone Nargis to consolidate its grip on power, and to exploit the generosity of the international community for its own benefit," said the All Burma Monks' Alliance.

"Some international actors assume that this is the time to save the lives, not to talk about the politics. Some even think that any harsh words or actions against the generals will jeopardize their humanitarian effort," the alliance said.

"This is totally wrong, morally, principally and practically. The Burmese military junta and their policies are responsible for all bad things happening in Burma, all the crises overloading the shoulders of the people of Burma," it added in its message to the EU Council.

Bangkok Post