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Junta seizes dozens of Burma’s pro-democracy supporters

May 22, 1997

RANGOON, Burma (AP) _ Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will hold a party congress challenging the legitimacy of Burma’s military regime, despite the arrests of more than 100 of her supporters, an aide said Thursday.

The government accused the Nobel Peace Prize winner of trying to stage a propaganda coup by calling a meeting she knew would provoke mass arrests and international protest.

The conference of the National League for Democracy marks the anniversary of the May 27, 1990, legislative elections in which the opposition won 82 percent of the vote. The military government never allowed parliament to convene.

Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.

Calling her party conference is one of the biggest challenges Suu Kyi can still mount against the regime. She is seldom allowed outside her house and her weekend rallies that once drew up to 10,000 people have been prohibited for months.

Diplomats who had recently seen Suu Kyi expressed concern for her health, saying she had lost a lot of weight. Suu Kyi’s aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Nobel laureate had seen a doctor and was simply suffering from diarrhea.

At least 100 party members were detained in Mandalay and Irrawaddy divisions in northern Burma, and the arrest total was sure to rise as news trickled into Rangoon, he said.

About 200 members of the parliament-elect and 100 other senior party members had been invited to the congress at her home.

Six party members were now taking refuge in Suu Kyi’s compound, he said.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused Suu Kyi of wishing ``to rock the boat.″

The official, in a written statement, said the roundup was ``not harsh enough to serve her propaganda interest, but there is no doubt that she will try to escalate and exploit the situation as much as possible.″

The government detained 262 people last year to prevent Suu Kyi from holding a similar congress. Most were freed after a few weeks, but about two dozen were held and sentenced to long prison terms.

That episode marked the end of a period of relative freedom following Suu Kyi’s release from six years of house arrest in July 1995.

The United States, which imposed economic sanctions Wednesday against Burma for stepping up its repression of the democracy movement, called the detentions ``perfidious and inhumane.″

London-based Amnesty International said the regime seemed bent on totally destroying the peaceful democratic movement.

But it was business as usual for Burma’s neighbors, which turn a blind eye to the regime’s human rights abuses and are determined to admit the country to their regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in July.

Vietnamese Communist Party leader Do Muoi arrived in Rangoon to a 21-gun salute Thursday and met with Burma’s military leaders, including Gen. Than Shwe, the country’s top general.

ASEAN nations have criticized U.S. economic sanctions and say only a policy of engaging the generals can moderate their behavior.

Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.

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