YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military junta extended the house arrest of opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for yet another year on Friday, ignoring international pleas for her release, a government source said.
“Home Ministry officials went to her residence and read it out to her,” the source said of the order issued two days before her detention was set to expire.
The decision to keep Suu Kyi, 61, confined in her lakeside home in Yangon had been widely expected despite appeals from the White House, United Nations and fellow Nobel winners to the generals ruling the former Burma.
She has now been in detention for more than 11 of the last 17 years and United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, called her confinement “cruel and unacceptable”.
Debbie Stothard, a member of the activist Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said in neighbouring Thailand: “The regime is obviously more afraid of Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity than international opinion.”
“If they had released Suu Kyi, it would have been an hasty end for the regime. There is increasing resentment over its mismanagement of the economy,” she said, referring to small public protests in Yangon this year against worsening living conditions.
The last time Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, in 2002, she drew huge crowds on a tour of the country, a reminder to the generals of the huge sway the daughter of independence hero Aung San still held over Myanmar’s 54 million people.
Her latest stretch of detention started “for her own safety” on May 30, 2003, after clashes between her supporters and pro-junta demonstrators.
She has been held incommunicado with her telephone line cut and no visitors allowed apart from her maid and doctor.
Sanctions imposed by the West, including the United States which renewed its penalties earlier this month, have had little effect on the military, which has ruled Myanmar in various guises since 1962.
But neither has the soft diplomacy employed by Myanmar’s partners in the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has become frustrated by the junta’s intransigence.
Myanmar and Suu Kyi’s detention was not discussed by ASEAN officials meeting in Manila this week to prepare for a regional summit in July.
Mark Farmaner, acting director of the Burma Campaign UK, said the Security Council’s failure to pass a resolution on Myanmar earlier this year had given the junta confidence it could defy the international community without consequence.
“They are having a good year,” Farmaner said, also complaining about what he called a lack of strong action by the European Union and other U.N. bodies.
“The international community is all huff and no puff, so it is ignored,” he said in a statement.
Suu Kyi is being held under an obscure security decree that has to be renewed every 12 months.
Quite why the junta, which ignored a sweeping election victory by her National League for Democracy in 1990, makes such a show of observing the rule of law in keeping her in isolation is a mystery.
“They just make the laws for their own convenience,” Khun Saing, an exiled dissident now living in Thailand, told Reuters this week.
Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in MAE SOT, Thailand and Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA