Attack on Suu Kyi 'planned by government supporters'

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The Independent Online

A clash in Burma involving followers of the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared to have been planned by supporters of the military government, an American embassy official said yesterday. A UN envoy is expected to arrive today to demand her release.

Ms Suu Kyi was taken into "protective custody" last week by the authorities after the violence, which military authorities said left four people dead and 50 injured.

But the US embassy official in Burma said on condition of anonymity that far more people might have died than the military junta reported, corroborating claims by dissident groups abroad, which allege that government forces staged an ambush and that at least 70 people were killed in two days.

The American official said in a telephone interview that two members of the embassy visited the scene on Friday last week and found signs of "great violence," including bloody clothing, many home-made weapons and smashed headlights and mirrors.

The weapons were "clearly prepared before the event and we think this is evidence of premeditation. They were not just limbs torn off a tree," the official said.

Burma's junta said the fighting began when Ms Suu Kyi's motorcade drove through a crowd of thousands of government supporters protesting against her visit.

In neighbouring Thailand, exiled opposition groups claimed Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize laureate, was hurt in the violence, perhaps suffering severe head injuries. But the junta insists that Ms Suu Kyi and colleagues detained with her are fine, although it is refusing to divulge where they are being held. The government has been under pressure to provide information on Ms Suu Kyi by today, when Razali Ismail, a UN special envoy, said he would visit.

Mr Razali, a Malaysian, said from Kuala Lumpur that he expected to meet Burma's military leader, General Than Shwe, to push for Ms Suu Kyi's freedom. "Suu Kyi must be released," he said.

Senior UN officials had asked him to proceed with the visit even though the junta had refused to give assurances that he would be allowed to meet her. A UN official in Rangoon said on condition of anonymity: "If Razali is not allowed to see her, that will only strengthen rumours of Suu Kyi being hurt."

In late 2000, Mr Razali brokered reconciliation talks between the government and Ms Suu Kyi, whose party, the National League for Democracy, won the 1990 general elections but was blocked from taking power by the military. The talks had provided hope that the political impasse could be cleared, but the dialogue reached a standstill last year.

On the eve of Mr Razali's visit, universities ordered to be shut on Sunday were partly reopened, allowing some postgraduate students to return to classes. Students have been at the forefront of pro-democracy activism in Burma.

Tight media controls and the remote location of the clash made it hard to confirm what happened in last week's violence. Phone lines to the area appear to have been cut.

The offices of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy have been closed across the country. Even some of Burma's Asian neighbours, which usually steer clear of criticising the regime, have expressed dismay at the political violence.