International Red Cross condemns Myanmar regime

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Friday, June 29, 2007

In a departure from its usual neutrality, the International Committee of the Red Cross today issued a statement condemning Myanmar's military State Peace and Development Council for human rights abuses.

The Geneva, Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, said the Myanmar junta is systematically causing thousands of people to suffer, especially along the border with Thailand, where government soldiers raid villages, destroy food supplies, force people from their homes and commit acts of violence, including murder and child abuse. Detainees, the ICRC said, were being forced to work on government projects or act as porters for the military.

Aung San Suu Kyi
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The statement comes amidst other developments in Myanmar, where 51 detainees who were arrested in a crackdown on democracy demonstrations last month were released on Wednesday.

In Beijing yesterday, U.S. State Department officials held talks with representatives of Myanmar's military regime, with the U.S. issuing a "very pointed and very direct" demand that the junta release detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in a press release: "Despite repeated entreaties by the ICRC, the [Myanmar] authorities have consistently refused to enter into a serious discussion of these abuses with a view to putting a stop to them."

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger.

"The continuing deadlock with the authorities has led the ICRC to take the exceptional step of making its concerns public," Kellenberger continued. "The organization uses confidential and bilateral dialog as its preferred means of achieving results. However, this presupposes that parties to a conflict are willing to enter into a serious discussion and take into account the ICRC's recommendations. This has not been the case with the authorities of Myanmar and that is why the ICRC has decided to speak out publicly."

In March this year, the ICRC closed its offices in Yangon, Myanmar's former capital, after the organization's staff were prevented from visiting prisons or conducting independent field operations in the border areas.

The condemnation of Myanmar by the ICRC is the strongest since it denounced the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Rare talks with U.S.

Separately in Beijing, U.S. and Myanmar officials met yesterday in the highest-level talks between the two countries since 2003.

The U.S. delegation was led by Assistant Secretary of State Eric John, who met with Myanmar Information Minister Kyaw San, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nyan Win and Culture Minister Khin Aung Myint.

One U.S. official, speaking to Agence France-Presse (AFP) on condition of anonymity, said the discussions were "very pointed and very direct."

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. delegation demanded the release of Suu Kyi and other political detainees, but received no positive response from the Myanmar officials. "I don't think we saw anything coming out of them that will indicate, unfortunately, that they have changed their basic opinions," Casey was quoted as saying by AFP. "We certainly did not hear that they were planning on releasing Aung San Suu Kyi or other political prisoners," he continued.

Long-standing U.S. diplomatic policy is to not meet with Myanmar leaders in their own country unless the U.S. officials are first allowed to visit Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won elections in 1990. The military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, never honored the results and has kept Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, under house arrest for most of the time since then.

Myanmar is also known as Burma, its former name under the British Empire. The military officially renamed the country Myanmar in 1989, but many countries and organizations, mostly those that refuse to recognize the military government, still refer to it as Burma.

51 detainees released, AIDS activist on hunger strike

In Yangon, also known as Rangoon, 51 NLD supporters who were detained last month in a crackdown on prayer vigils have been released, according to the NLD.

Phyu Phyu Thin

However Phyu Phyu Thin, an AIDS campaigner who was arrested on May 21 for organizing a prayer campaign for the release of Suu Kyi was not among those freed. While it isn't known where Phyu Phyu Thin is being held, the NLD says she has started a hunger strike.

“The NLD calls for the immediate release of Phyu Phyu Thin, who should receive health care from her family,” NLD spokesman Myint Thein was quoted as saying by The Irrawaddy. “We [the NLD], together with her family, are seriously concerned about her health.”

Phyu Phyu Thin began her hunger strike on June 19 and has been taking only liquids, Myint Thein told The Irrawaddy.

An outspoken critic, who has said the junta is understating the number of HIV and AIDS cases in Myanmar, Phyu Phyu Thin runs a small clinic that provides care and counseling to HIV/AIDS patients.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Wednesday, calling for Phyu Phyu Thin's release. "The United States calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Phyu Phyu Thin [and] others recently detained while praying at pagodas," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.

Earlier, another NLD activist, Su Su Nway, was released for health reasons.

The release of the 51 activists coincided with a visit by United Nations envoy Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative for children and armed conflict. She met acting prime minister Lieutenant-General Thein Sein on Wednesday morning in the new administrative capital, Naypyidaw. However, it wasn't known if the U.N. envoy had raised the issue of the detained activists.

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