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Suu Kyi: Does junta really want democracy?

June 23, 2011 at 4:00 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 23 (UPI) -- Fulfilling U.N. rights demands is crucial to making Myanmar the democracy the ruling junta claims it wants, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi told U.S. lawmakers.

Freeing the estimated 2,000 political prisoners held by the army government will show that the junta truly wants to create a modern, democratic nation, the pro-democracy activist said in videotaped testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Asia and the Pacific subcommittee.

Getting the military, which has ruled the country since 1962, to free political prisoners is a key demand of a March U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution.

"If [the government] is sincere in its claims that it wishes to bring democracy to Burma, there is no need for any prisoners of conscience to exist in this country," Suu Kyi said, using the earlier name for Myanmar preferred among dissident groups.

"Surely democracy means that we all have the right to our own beliefs," said Suu Kyi, whose democracy party won an overwhelming victory in 1990 elections but was prevented by the military from assuming power.

Freeing political prisoners is a key demand of the United States and other Western countries maintaining tough sanctions against Myanmar and its government, which human-rights groups allege engages in child labor, forced labor, human trafficking and rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control.

The junta is eager to remove the sanctions, which bar some leaders from carrying out financial transactions through Western banks and from traveling to the United States, European Union or Australia, The New York Times reported.

Suu Kyi urged U.S. lawmakers to do all within their power to get the junta to comply with the U.N. demands, which also call for an independent judiciary, freedom of information and association, and political reconciliation.

"Without an independent judiciary we cannot have the rule of law, and without the rule of law none of our people can be secure," she said.

Suu Kyi, released from house arrest Nov. 13, 2010, after spending 15 of the previous 21 years in confinement, made the video secretly.

Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., who asked her to testify and arranged for the video testimony, would not say how the video was obtained, The Washington Post reported.

Lawmakers awarded Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008 -- the highest civilian U.S. award, equal to the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- but are holding off giving it to her until she is able to accept it in person.

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