Published on Saturday, June 18, 2005 by Agence France Presse
As She Turns 60, New Calls for Release of Myanmar Activist
Officials, former leaders and prominent organizations in Europe added their voices to a worldwide call to Myanmar's ruling junta to release democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi as she prepared to mark her 60th birthday under house arrest.
Norway's Nobel Committee, which gave Suu Kyi the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, called attention to her plight and called for her to be freed immediately.
"Suu Kyi's struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades," the chairman of the committee, Ole Mjoes, said in a statement dated June 19 marking Suu Kyi's 60th birthday on Sunday.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, issued a letter to Suu Kyi in which he wrote: "I together with millions of European citizens have admired your struggle over many years for decent democratic government."
He promised to "take every opportunity" to help her and added that "I hope that this will be the last birthday that you will spend under house arrest."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer sent Suu Kyi a telegram with birthday wishes and criticized her treatment by Myanmar authorities.
"Many people in Germany have you in their thoughts, particularly on your birthday," he wrote.
"Together with them I wish you a quick release and continued strength and courage for your decisive efforts for democracy and human rights."
On Thursday, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw also criticized the activist's treatment at the hands of the junta in Myanmar, a resource-rich country which was formerly known as Burma.
"Her treatment by the Burmese authorities is indefensible and I urge them to release her and the 1,300 other political prisoners immediately," he said.
Supporters are planning protests around the world to mark her birthday on Sunday, demonstrating outside Myanmar's embassies in a dozen countries to demand her release.
A letter signed by former prime ministers Lionel Jospin of France, Felipe Gonzalez of Spain, and Jean-Luc Dehaene and Pierre Harmel, both of Belgium, as well as former European Commission president Jacques Delors, was made public Friday calling on the European Union and United Nations to be tougher with Myanmar over Suu Kyi's detention.
Other signatories included the chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal, Carla del Ponte, several Euro-MPs and German filmmaker Wim Wenders. The letter was published by Belgium's Catholic University of Louvain, which has awarded Suu Kyi awarded an honorary doctorate.
"Today, calls for a release are not enough... we have to act," said the letter, written in French under the title "Our freedom should serve her own".
It called for further economic sanctions on Myanmar, UN Security Council intervention against the country and more vigilance on the part of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In Paris, a foreign ministry spokesman, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, said France backed an EU demand that Suu Kyi be released and called her continued detention "a serious obstacle to the process of national reconciliation" in Myanmar.
A small demonstration with a handful of protesters unfurled banners reading "Free Aung San Suu Kyi" and "Down with the dictatorship" in front of the Myanmar embassy in Paris. Organizers said a follow-up demonstration was planned for Sunday on a barge close to the French economy ministry.
Some 100 British protestors also gathered outside the Myanmar embassy in London.
Suu Kyi has been confined to her home in Yangon for the past two years in her third stint under house arrest. She has spent nearly a decade in detention since taking up her pro-democracy cause in 1988.
Her National League for Democracy party scored a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but the junta never allowed the winners to take office.
Other initiatives were planned to bring attention to Suu Kyi's situation.
The Norwegian Burma Committee said it would hold demonstrations in front of the Norwegian parliament as well as in a number of towns across the country on Sunday and has organized a petition for her release that has been signed by the Dalai Lama, among others.
In Sweden, representatives for all of the parties represented in parliament expressed to Suu Kyi their "deepest respect for your courage and loyalty to the struggle for democracy for the people" of Myanmar. A demonstration was to be held in central Stockholm on Friday.
The Danish Burma Committee said it was organizing a birthday party for Suu Kyi in a Copenhagen cafe that would be attended by orchestras, artists, left-wing politicians and children.
In the Czech Republic, the Myanmar community and the Multicultural Center organization were to hold a meeting Saturday before joining the worldwide campaign for Suu Kyi.
And an acclaimed Irish musician, Damien Rice, is to release a new single called "Unplayed Piano" on the dissident's birthday, written after he learned that she has been deprived of one of her few pleasures, playing the piano at home.
© Copyright 2005 AFP