YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is aware of an upcoming visit by two American officials and supports the new U.S. policy of engaging with Myanmar’s military rulers, her lawyer said last Saturday, Oct. 31.
Myanmar, meanwhile, has arrested about a dozen local journalists and documentary filmmakers over the past two weeks, relatives of those detained said Saturday, asking not to be identified for fear of retribution.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and a deputy were in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for a two-day visit beginning Nov. 3 and are scheduled to meet with the government and the opposition, including Suu Kyi.
The trip is part of a new U.S. policy that reverses the Bush administration’s shunning of Myanmar in favor of direct, high-level talks with a country that has been ruled by the military since 1962. Campbell will be continuing talks that began in September in New York with senior Myanmar officials, the first such high-level contact in nearly a decade.
“We told Daw Aung San Suu Kyi about the visit of the U.S. officials and she is aware of the visit,” said Suu Kyi’s party spokesman and lawyer, Nyan Win, who met with her Thursday. “Since the U.S. diplomats are meeting both the government and opposition members, things are happening as she had wanted.”
Nyan Win said the U.S. Embassy in Yangon was making arrangements with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy for the visiting U.S. officials to meet with party leaders.
Supporters of engagement argue that isolating the country has limited U.S. influence among Myanmar’s citizens and allowed China to establish a strong business and diplomatic foothold. Campbell says engaging Myanmar will enable the United States to learn more about the intentions of the leaders of a country it knows even less about than North Korea.
Critics say high-level U.S. attention validates a junta that has killed and abused its people for speaking out in opposition. The country is believed to hold more than 2,200 political detainees, according to human rights groups.
Security in Myanmar has been tight since September, which marked the two-year anniversary of massive pro-democracy demonstrations crushed by the junta. Nyan Win said the government has detained scores of activists.
The latest arrests, all made in Yangon, were journalists and bloggers. Among them were documentary filmmakers Aung Ko Ko and Myo Min Khin as well as freelance journalist Paing Soe Oo and the editor of a local journal, Foreign Affairs, Thant Zin Soe, according to friends and relatives who refused to be identified.
None of those interviewed said they knew why the journalists were detained or where they are being held.
Washington has said that it will maintain its tough political and economic sanctions against the regime. The United States and other Western nations apply sanctions because of Myanmar’s poor human rights record and its failure to turn over power to Suu Kyi’s party after it won the last elections in 1990.
Elections are scheduled for next year, but Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, will not be able to take part. In August, she was convicted and sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest for briefly sheltering an uninvited American man at her home.
The sentence drew international condemnation.
Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention. ♦