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11/17/03 - BURMA'S POLITICAL PRISONERS - 2003-11-17

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not in a jail. But she is far from being free. United Nations human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro met with Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners during a recent visit to Burma. Mr. Pinheiro said Aung San Suu Kyi “has no freedom of movement or freedom of access.” She is denied a telephone. Her house is surrounded by Burmese security agents. And some of her colleagues in the National League for Democracy continue to be held in jail under terrible conditions. Until they are free, Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to accept any special privileges from the military regime.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. stands with Burma's democracy movement:

"We agree that these prisoners should be freed. We again urge the junta to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and allow them the freedom to participate fully in the restoration of democracy in Burma."

Many National League for Democracy activists have been detained since May 30th in Burma. They are not alone. U-N official Pinheiro puts the total number of political prisoners in Burma at about thirteen hundred.

U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan said Burma's military rulers still refuse to include the National League for Democracy and all of Burma's ethnic groups in talks aimed at restoring democracy. Without their participation, the process is a sham.

President George W. Bush said time is running out for authoritarian rule in Burma and elsewhere:

"Our commitment to democracy is tested in countries like Cuba and Burma and North Korea and Zimbabwe -- outposts of oppression in our world. The people in these nations live in captivity, and fear, and silence. Yet, these regimes cannot hold back freedom forever."

“One day,” says President Bush, “from prison camps and prison cells, and from exile, the leaders of new democracies will arrive.”