Sunday, 14 November 2010

Suu Kyi release welcomed, but leaders say they're watching Burma

WORLD leaders and rights groups have hailed the release from detention of Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, but warned the junta not to restrict her and called for the release of all political prisoners.

US President Barack Obama said that "while the Burmese regime has gone to extraordinary lengths to isolate and silence Aung San Suu Kyi, she has continued her brave fight for democracy, peace and change in Burma".

"She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world," said Mr Obama in a statement.

In Oslo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee invited Suu Kyi to make the traditional acceptance speech which she, as the Nobel Peace laureate, was prevented from giving in 1991, the NTB news agency reported.

China, one of Burma's closest allies and a mainstay for the junta through trade ties and arms sales, had no immediate reaction although the official Xinhua news agency did report the release of the "noted political figure".

India, which has also been accused of turning a blind eye to the regime's abuses, greeted her release as a welcome step forward in efforts to achieve "a more inclusive approach to political change" in its southeastern neighbour.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Burma but has been accused by the West of not doing enough to push for change in the military-ruled country, welcomed the release.

"I'm very, very relieved and hope that this will contribute to true national reconciliation," ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuswan said.

Mr Pitsuswan said he hoped Suu Kyi would be able to play a role in any reform process, while ASEAN's largest member, Indonesia, said the release was a "positive step" towards national reconciliation.

Neighbouring Thailand, a major trading partner, echoed the sentiment, saying it hoped that Suu Kyi "will have a constructive role to play in (Burma's) nation-building process".

While the reaction to Suu Kyi's release was broadly positive, several leaders and rights groups urged Burma to do more. Mr Obama said it was "time for the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners", in a statement echoed by Australia.

"The release of Aung San Suu Kyi offers the Burmese authorities an opportunity to move the country forward," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

Amnesty International said Suu Kyi's release was not a "concession" by the regime and should not take attention away from other prisoners of conscience being held in "deplorable conditions".

Release a 'cynical ploy'

Human Rights Watch said the release was a "cynical ploy by the military government to distract the international community from its illegitimate elections" held this month and called for all political prisoners to be freed.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France would be "extremely attentive" to the conditions in which Suu Kyi "enjoys her re-found liberty".

"Restrictions on her freedom of movement and expression would constitute a new unacceptable denial of her rights," Mr Sarkozy said in a statement.

A senior Burmese official said no conditions were tied to Suu Kyi's release.

"She is completely free - there are no conditions at all," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Suu Kyi "an inspiration" to the world.

"The secretary-general expects that no further restrictions will be placed on her, and he urges the (Burmese) authorities to build on today's action by releasing all remaining political prisoners," a spokesman said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, Burma's former colonial ruler, called her release "long overdue", branding her detention for 15 of the past 21 years a "travesty, designed only to silence the voice of the Burmese people".

Desmond Tutu, chair of the group of retired senior statesmen known as The Elders, called Suu Kyi "a global symbol of moral courage" and said her release "offers hope to the people of Burma".

In Brussels, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso called for Suu Kyi to be granted "unrestricted freedom of movement and speech" and echoed the call for the release of political prisoners.

Europe's top rights body, the 47-member Council of Europe groups welcomed her release as "an important day for human rights defenders worldwide".

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay called Suu Kyi's release "a positive signal" by Burmese authorities and said she could "make a major contribution" in the transition to democracy and national reconciliation.

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