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5/31/03 - BURMA CONTINUES REPRESSION - 2003-06-02

Burma's military regime has reportedly sentenced three senior members of the National League for Democracy, including an elected member of parliament, to two years in prison. Their alleged crime? Helping farmers write letters demanding the return of lands confiscated by Burmese authorities. Seven other democracy activists were reportedly given prison terms ranging from five to twenty years.

The repression of Burmese democrats is directed even at Burmese simply attempting to meet with democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi. They have been attacked by hoodlums reportedly hired by the Union Solidarity Development Association, an organization affiliated with Burma's regime.

Things are also difficult for ethnic minority groups in Burma. A new report by Refugees International alleges an egregious abuse -- the rape of Shan, Karen, Karenni, Mon, and Tavoyan ethnic minority women by the Burmese military. Veronika Martin, author of the study, said, "Women are raped during forced labor assignments, they are raped while farming, they are raped in their homes and raped also when they are trying to flee to Thailand."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke out on the issue of protecting the rights and safety of women: "Brutality against women, the rape and the mutilation of women can never be justified, whatever the circumstances or culture."

The people of Burma are demanding an end to these and other abuses. They have the full support of the United States. Secretary of State Powell explained why:

"America's democratic values, our national interest, and our obligations to the international community demand that the defense and promotion of human rights are an integral part our foreign policy."

Burma’s military rulers have long promised to work for a peaceful transition to democracy. A good way to start would be to end the brutality against democracy activists and ethnic minorities in Burma.