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Following up on Aung San Suu Kyi and Viktor Bout

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Not that the two are related, obviously. But given my absence last week, a couple of quick follow-ups:

First, I mentioned how to track the Myanmar elections online, so I wanted to weigh in again on a related topic: the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Here’s a NYT story about Saturday’s events, and here’s an interview she gave to the BBC not long after she was freed.

I recommend checking out this piece in the The Telegraph by Justin Wintle, who wrote a 2007 biography of Suu Kyi. He puts her release into perspective:

Any celebrations, however, are likely to be shortlived. Any thought that she will or can do a Nelson Mandela and walk to power in triumph is misbegotten. Should she opt to return to the hustings, or cause the regime any other kind of embarrassment, she will find herself confined to her residence for a fourth time, and probably without any eventual release date.

Having gone to such pains to protect and reinforce his position, Than Shwe is unlikely to seek a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi in the interests of national reconciliation or any other cause.

More ominously, Miss Suu Kyi’s restored freedom may allow the army’s dirty tricks department to complete the job so badly botched at Depayin in 2003.

On the face of it, then, Suu Kyi’s political ‘journey’ (to borrow Tony Blair’s way of seeing things) has been in vain.

By refusing to contest the 2010 election on the grounds that to do so would have meant both signing up to a new constitution launched by the junta in 2008 and acknowledging that the 1990 election result was now dead wood, the NLD has permanently damaged its ability to make any further meaningful contribution to Burmese political life.

(Emphasis mine.)

For more reading on the subject of potential reform in Myanmar, I suggest checking out this WSJ story, “Myanmar Opposition Group Has New Tack: Cooperation.” And here’s a more recent NYT story about what comes next for Suu Kyi.

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And second, I wanted to point out that yesterday Viktor Bout — the alleged Russian arms dealer I’ve mentioned before — was extradited to the U.S. to face terrorism charges.

Here are stories from The AP, CNN, the NYT, and Bloomberg. More on this — and Myanmar — soon, I’m sure.

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Following the Myanmar elections online

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Myanmar is holding elections today for the first time in 20 years. Critics, however, say the vote is a sham designed to allow the military junta to remain in control of the country while claiming to be undertaking democratic reforms.

While it’s unlikely there will be any surprising developments, here are some resources for following today’s events online:

For background reading, here are three stories worth checking out:

Image: Reuters.

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China-Myanmar pipeline project

WSJ: “Myanmar’s Neighbors Advance Pipeline Project

HSIPAW, Myanmar — China and its neighbors are moving ahead on a multibillion-dollar oil-and-gas pipeline project that promises to greatly enhance the financial strength of Myanmar’s military regime and boost its political clout in Asia.

That promise comes as the U.S. is seeking new ways to weaken Myanmar’s regime, which has used force and imprisonment to subdue political opposition and ethnic separatists over the years, and which some analysts fear could someday pose a threat to other countries as it builds up its military. Past strategies, including the use of economic sanctions to hobble Myanmar’s junta, have largely failed.

And:

When completed, the pipeline will help unlock large untapped deposits of natural gas off Myanmar’s coast and carry it hundreds of miles to southern China, expanding Myanmar’s role as one of Asia’s important energy exporters and enhancing its influence over other countries that rely on its supplies.

(Emphasis mine.)

There’s also a video and some graphics that are worth checking out.

UPDATE: This story appears to be available to non-WSJ subscribers via Google News, but the link I provided above seems to be subscriber-only.

UPDATE 2: I meant to mention this earlier, but U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who met with Aung San Suu Kyi in August, has often warned of China’s growing influence in Myanmar. News of this pipeline project would obviously be a case in point.

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Around the web: August 25th to August 30th

Some links that have caught my eye of late:

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U.S. Senator Jim Webb: “We Can’t Afford to Ignore Myanmar”

Just wanted to point out that U.S. Senator Jim Webb has a New York Times op-ed about his recent visit to Myanmar. Worth a read. Webb discusses Myanmar’s isolation, China’s influence, and the importance of U.S. engagement.

My previous post about Webb’s visit to Bangkok is here. And here’s my post about Aung San Suu Kyi’s guilty verdict.

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Webb and Yettaw arrive in Bangkok

US Senator Jim Webb gave a press conference here in Bangkok yesterday after the completion of Webb’s visit to Myanmar. During the trip, the Virgina Democrat met with the recently-convicted Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the country’s top general, Than Shwe. Webb also secured the release of American John Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years of hard labor for swimming across a lake, uninvited, to Suu Kyi’s house in May.

In speaking to the media about the trip, Webb stressed his commitment to engaging Myanmar over time. Webb said that the sanctions against Myanmar have increased the country’s isolation and driven it into the arms of China.

Webb also said that Yettaw’s actions were “regrettable” and that the Missouri native is “not a well man.” However, Webb said that Yettaw was not a “mean spirited human being.” Webb said that Yettaw was undergoing a medical review here in Bangkok, but declined to say what will come next for Yettaw.

Here are some news stories:

  • NY Times: “American Held in Myanmar Is Released”
  • AP: “Myanmar release of US man could thaw relations”
  • WSJ: “U.S. Prisoner Leaves Myanmar: Release, Secured by Sen. Jim Webb, Fuels Debate Over Role of Private Missions”
  • Bloomberg: “Webb Wins Release of U.S. Activist, Urges Freedom for Suu Kyi”
  • AFP: “Suu Kyi US ‘guest’ given medical treatment: embassy”
  • AP: “American Gets Medical Tests After Myanmar Jailing
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Aung San Suu Kyi found guilty in Myanmar

The verdict was widely expected, but it was officially announced — after a delay on July 31 — early this afternoon, local time.

Myanmar’s imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was pronounced guilty of violating the terms of her detention by allegedly harboring an American well-wisher, John Yettaw, who swam across a lake, uninvited, to her house in May.

Suu Kyi has already spent nearly 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest.

Today’s verdict: She will serve an additional 18 months of detention. This is, technically, a reduced term, as she was initially sentenced to three years of hard labor. (Five minutes after the verdict was announced, Myanmar’s Home Minister issued the reduced sentence.)

Critics will say that this apparent show of clemency amounts to a shrewd political move: Myanmar’s government, which has faced unwanted scrutiny since Yettaw’s strange activities in May, can now argue that they’ve treated Suu Kyi with leniency. And an additional year and a half of detention means that she will be unable to influence elections — dismissed by many as a sham designed to put a civilian face on a military dictatorship — scheduled for 2010.

Of course, activists note that the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate should never have been arrested in the first place. And even if her initial detention were legitimate, surely the guards who were in charge of securing her house should be blamed for Yettaw’s intrusion.

Today I visited the Myanmar embassy here in Bangkok; it was quiet — business as usual. And I spoke with a Burmese activist who works with a group pushing for democracy in Burma. He said the trial verdict is a “slap in the face of the international community,” noting that many parties, over the years, have tried to engage with the government, but all efforts have failed. I also spoke with a representative of Amnesty International; his group has called the verdict “shameful,” and AI says the only resolution is the “immediate and unconditional release” of Suu Kyi.

Here are some additional news reports:

  • AP: “Myanmar’s Suu Kyi returns to house arrest”
  • Reuters: Myanmar’s Suu Kyi ordered back into house detention
  • NY Times: “Pro-Democracy Leader in Myanmar Is Convicted”
  • WSJ: “Suu Kyi Sentenced to 18 Months House Arrest” (And don’t miss their interactive timeline about Suu Kyi’s life.)
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NYT podcast on Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi

In this week’s New York Times podcast ((Here’s a list of my favorite podcasts.)) about international news, correspondent Seth Mydans discusses Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar. If you’re looking for some general context and historical perspective, it’s worth a listen.

Click here and scroll down to World View Podcast. You can stream the 6 min., 30 sec. mp3 or subscribe for future episodes.

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Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and John Yettaw

Some news stories about Aung San Suu Kyi and John Yettaw:

Reuters: “Critics hit Myanmar on “trumped-up” Suu Kyi charges

YANGON (Reuters) – Western critics slammed Myanmar’s military rulers for pressing “trumped-up” new charges against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the move drew only mild rebuke from Asian neighbors.

The United States and Britain — the loudest critics of the generals who have ruled the former Burma since 1962 — condemned the Nobel Peace laureate’s forthcoming trial on charges she broke the terms of her house arrest after an American intruder stayed in her home.

Human rights groups called on Myanmar’s neighbors China and India — which have strong economic ties to the resource-rich country — and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to demand Suu Kyi’s immediate release.

“Burma’s military authorities have taken advantage of an intruder’s bizarre stunt to throw Aung San Suu Kyi into one of Burma’s most notorious and squalid jails on trumped-up charges,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

BBC (with images that are said to be of Yettaw and what appear to be improvised flippers): “Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi ‘intruder’

The US man who allegedly broke into the home of detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been named by Burma as John Yettaw, 53.

Burmese state media said he was a psychology student living in the US state of Missouri.

They say Mr Yettaw, whose surname has also been spelled Yeattaw, entered the country on a tourist visa on 2 May.

His detention led to the arrest of Ms Suu Kyi, who is now awaiting trial in Burma’s Insein prison.

CNN: “Neighbors describe man at center of Myanmar political scandal

Tucked away in the woods of central Missouri, obscured by tall trees and broken-down cars, is the mobile home of the U.S. citizen being detained in Myanmar.

Journalists have been flocking to John Yettaw’s modest residence in the unincorporated community of Falcon for insight into the man who allegedly swam across a lake and sneaked into the home of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest.

Yettaw was charged Thursday in Myanmar on two criminal counts: entering the country illegally and staying at a resident’s home without government permission, according to a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s political party.

AP: “Clinton: Myanmar should release opposition leader

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging Myanmar to immediately release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (ahng sahn soo chee).

Clinton told reporters at the State Department on Thursday that she was deeply troubled by Myanmar’s “baseless charge” against the Nobel Peace laureate. She says the government is looking for a “pretext” to place further unjust restrictions on Suu Kyi (soo chee).

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Angelina Jolie: Thailand should aid Rohingya refugees

AP: “Jolie asks Thailand to help Burmese refugees

Angelina Jolie has called on Thailand’s government to give more freedom to tens of thousands of Burmese refugees it has kept locked inside camps for up to 20 years.

The Academy Award-winning actress and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Refugee Agency visited Thailand’s Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee center Wednesday.

“I was saddened to meet a 21-year-old woman who was born in a refugee camp, who has never even been out of the camp and is now raising her own child in a camp,” Jolie was quoted as saying by UNHCR in a statement released Thursday.

She asked Thai authorities to give around 110,000 refugees in northern Thailand greater freedom to move around and seek higher education, because they are unlikely to be welcomed back anytime soon to Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Bloomberg: “Angelina Jolie, UN Envoy, Asks Thailand to Aid Myanmar Refugees

Angelina Jolie, a United Nations goodwill ambassador, asked Thailand to accept Muslim migrants fleeing Myanmar’s military authorities during a visit to refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Thailand is facing an international outcry over its treatment of the minority Muslim Rohingya group, after CNN published a photo showing armed forces towing refugee boats away from the shore on Jan. 26. Five of six boats towed in late December sank, killing several hundred people, CNN reported.

Jolie issued the plea during a visit yesterday to camps in northern Thailand that house 111,000 mostly ethnic Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

There’s also an accompanying article on the UN Web site.