Keep up the Pressure, Urges Win Tin

Win Tin, a prominent member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), has urged the international community to continue pushing for her release, saying that the pressure on the Burmese junta since her trial began more than two weeks ago has given the democratic opposition more “breathing space.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, the 79-year-old Win Tin expressed deep appreciation for strongly-worded statements from world leaders condemning the detention of Suu Kyi and asking for the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s unconditional release.“That was very significant,” he said of the strong messages of support for Suu Kyi from a number of world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
He also thanked Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and other leading Thai politicians, who have been unusually outspoken in their criticism of Suu Kyi’s detention, even raising the issue at meetings of regional leaders.

Win Tin also welcomed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s promise to return to Burma “as soon as possible.” He added, however, that the UN chief must be prepared to press for tangible results.

“If he leaves Burma empty-handed, it will be a setback,” he said.

He also warned against any slackening of pressure on the regime, which he said was now stalling Suu Kyi’s trial in the hope that the international outcry would lose momentum. The veteran politician, who spent 19 years in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison, where Suu Kyi is currently being held, said that the court agreed to hear an appeal of an earlier decision barring three of her defense witnesses because the regime was trying to buy time.

The Nobel laureate’s trial on charges she violated her house arrest was to have final arguments on Friday, paving the way for a widely expected guilty verdict and a prison sentence of up to five years.

Suu Kyi, 63, faces three to five years in prison if found guilty of breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay for two days after he swam to her home on May 4.

Although the trial has resulted in tighter restrictions on Suu Kyi, the intense international attention that it has attracted has actually made life slightly easier for beleaguered democratic opposition forces, according to Win Tin.

Before Suu Kyi’s arrest and transfer to Insein prison, activists and dissidents in Burma were powerless to make a move without the regime pouncing on them, “but now we have some breathing space here,” he said.

Win Tin also said he suspected the regime was behind the bizarre incident that landed Suu Kyi in a special court at Insein Prison.

“It was a set up,” he said, questioning why John William Yettaw, the American man who swam to Suu Kyi’s house on May 4, was able to get a visa to return to Burma after police were informed that he had breached the tight security around her home late last year.

Suu Kyi’s personal physician, Tin Myo Win, had reported this first intrusion to the police on December 4, 2008. Yettaw entered her compound on November 30 and was immediately told to leave. It was not clear what prompted him to attempt a repeat of his earlier illegal entry into Suu Kyi’s residential compound.

Win Tin also dismissed the regime’s efforts to use the incident to smear Suu Kyi’s reputation and justify her continued detention after more than six years under house arrest.

“People in Burma do not believe the regime’s propaganda,” said Win Tin, adding that the junta’s actions could provoke unrest.

In a sign that the regime is growing increasingly wary of a backlash, it has beefed up security in Rangoon, where residents said that they saw about 30 police trucks on roads leading to Insein prison yesterday.

Win Tin also said that despite the military leaders’ determination to keep Suu Kyi in prison, the daughter of Burma’s independence leader doesn’t hold any personal grudge against them.

“They know her very well. They know that she has no ill will against them, but they want to lock her up or deport her somewhere,” he said.

But the generals were making a serious mistake by attempting to marginalize Suu Kyi, said Win Tin, who said that they would need her when the time comes to cede power.

“They should realize that she can save them,” he said.

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