Friday, February 25, 2011

Suu Kyi feels sorry for Myanmar refugees

Despite having been kept in isolation and under house arrest for 14 years, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's priority is still freeing her people from the junta.
KUALA LUMPUR: Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi feels empathy for her fellow Myanmar citizens who have been forced to seek shelter as illegal refugees in Malaysia.
“I am very sorry that conditions in our country are such that the Burmese (Myanmars) have been forced to become refugees.
“We hope that the day will come when they will be able to return to their homes in safety,” she told reporters here over the telephone from Myanmar.
Released three months ago after being under house arrest for 14 years, Suu Kyi also had a few words for Malaysians.
“To the people of Malaysia, I would like to say, thank you for letting the refugees stay,” she said, without missing a beat.
Acknowledging that refugees were difficult issues for many countries, she said: “We would like them (the home countries) to look upon these refugees with compassion and understanding.”
Nearly 100,000 Burmese refugees reside in Malaysia, with over 10,000 of them children.
As refugees, they are not recognised here. Malaysia classifies them as illegal immigrants.
Help needed
As such, many have been mistreated and rounded up into detention centres.
Some have been trafficked, never to be seen again.
“We are trying to do everything we can to alleviate conditions in which they (refugees) are living in,” Suu Kyi said, calling on donor countries and NGOs for help.
She also said that there were efforts to create an international Burmese network for both refugees and migrant workers.
Nevertheless, the embattled Burmese leader said that Myanmar needed to change if the refugee problem was to be arrested.
“Nobody wants to run away across the border and live in refugee camps. They do so only because conditions here are so bad.
“In order to stop them from being a problem to the rest of the world, we have to try and change conditions in Burma.”
Political conditions
Myanmar has been under the thumb of a military junta for nearly 50 years.
Decried by many around the world as an oppressive regime, the junta has kept an iron grip over nearly all facets of Burmese life.
The junta has also detained more than 2,000 political opponents in the country.
Refering to the prisoners, Suu Kyi said: “They are kept in appalling conditions.
“The fact that I have been released is nothing to celebrate about, as long as there are 2,000 more still  in prison.”
The Burmese leader also denounced MPs in her country’s newest Parliament as nothing more than “showpieces”.
It is not difficult to see why, with sessions in Myanmar’s Parliament, the Hluttaw, lasting for not more than 15 minutes each.
Suu Kyi’s own political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was rendered illegal by the military junta in May 2010, months before the country’s first election in 20 years.
Even so, she said that her party still commanded a firm support base throughout the country, especially among Myanmar’s youth.
Media in Burma

Suu Kyi also commented on the junta’s direct control of her country’s mass media.
“There is no freedom of the media yet in Burma,” Suu Kyi said, referring to the recent arrest of Myanmar Times editor Ross Dunkley.
Dunkley, who founded the Yangon-based English-language weekly, was accused of assaulting a woman in January.
Although the woman withdrew the complaint, the junta decided to pursue the matter.
The Myanmar Times is also the only newspaper in the country with foreign investors, a detail which Suu Kyi questioned.
With a heavily censored media system, Myanmar stands at position 174 out of 178 countries, according to the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres.
“It would help if we could try to expand the limits of what journalists can do in Burma. I think we all have to work towards greater freedom of information.
“But I don’t know whether that kind of freedom (can be achieved) by investing in Burma’s media through the authorities,” she said.
Suu Kyi added that it was not practical to use Twitter and Facebook in Myanmar at this stage, due to stringent Internet restrictions.
“We have made an application to the relevant departments,” she said, adding that she hoped to use both tools in the future.
Middle East comparisons
Suu Kyi also told reporters that the current unrest in the Middle East was not reported in Myanmar’s media.
Nevertheless, she said that those familiar with events in the Arab world compared them with Myanmar’s own uprising in 1988.
Back then, thousands of Burmese civilians including Buddhist monks were killed by the military junta after holding demonstrations across the country.
Suu Kyi said that the Burmese have stood up against the junta many times before, only to be gunned down by the army.
While she said that the Libyan army was divided on how to treat its citizens, she added that the Burmese junta had no such inhibitions.