Protests as Burmese crack down on Suu Kyi

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The Independent Online

The Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and 14 of her companions were under virtual house arrest yesterday at the end of another trial of strength with the ruling junta that prompted international condemnation.

The Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and 14 of her companions were under virtual house arrest yesterday at the end of another trial of strength with the ruling junta that prompted international condemnation.

The Nobel laureate and her supporters were driven back to Rangoon by the authorities on Saturday, ending a stand-off outside the capital.

Ms Suu Kyi and the members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) left Rangoon on 24 August, intending to travel to the south of the country for party work, but were scarcely beyond the city limits when they were stopped by police and forced off the road. Refusing to return to Rangoon as the authorities demanded, they spent nine days camping on the roadside while the international community heaped indignant criticism on the junta for impeding their movements.

The protest ended on Saturday when police forced the democrats to go home. The junta said that Ms Suu Kyi and her group had been "escorted" back home at 1.30am, in a motorcade "facilitated by the government for their safe and convenient return". The statement concluded: "Daw Suu Kyi, her companions and all the attendants arrived home fit and sound."

But Tin Oo, the NLD's vice-chairman, told reporters that the group was "brought back forcibly". He was not given the opportunity to elaborate. No further details could be obtained either by reporters or Western diplomats in Rangoon, as Ms Suu Kyi and her comrades have now been rendered incommunicado. Residents reported heavy security around the NLD's headquarters in the centre of Rangoon and outside the homes of party leaders.

Neither Ms Suu Kyi nor other NLD leaders could be reached by telephone. Western diplomats were also unable to make contact, and expressed deep concern at the denial of usual access. They said the heavy security and the cutting of phone links indicated that an official offensive against the NLD was now under way.

This reading was given further substance by stories in several state-run newspapers on Saturday, alleging that 500,000 people in one area of Burma had demanded that the NLD be dissolved. Concocted reports of this sort have been used in the past to justify crackdowns against the democrats.

In response to journalists' inquiries, an official statement by the junta explained the heavy security at the NLD office by saying an investigation was being conducted into the activities of 14 foreign visitors and a US congressional team who recently paid a visit.

"Senior NLD central executive committee members have been requested to stay at their respective residences and to cooperate with the government during the course of the investigation," the statement said. "None of the NLD's central executive committee members are under house arrest."

So the trial of strength between Ms Suu Kyi and the junta continues, now behind closed doors, and even further from the eyes of the outside world. The round that has just finished ended, inevitably, in a technical victory for the authorities, but produced massive international embarrassment.

The European Union issued a statement yesterday condemning the junta's attacks on the "freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom to meet of the secretary general of the National League for Democracy".

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