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Published: Saturday, 7/25/2009

Secretary of State Clinton puts in a word for Suu Kyi

BY ROSE RUSSELL

SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton told National Public Radio on Wednesday that she is committed to seeing that wrongly imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is freed.

She is not alone.

I have only been writing about Ms. Suu Kyi for little more than a decade, and I wonder what it would take for Myanmar's military leaders to free her.

Sanctions are not working. But if Myanmar's peers booted it from the southeast Asian organization, they would know other nations are serious about the release of the Nobel laureate.

On Monday, the junta is expected to continue its trial of Ms. Suu Kyi on charges that are an excuse to keep holding her. The trumped-up charges are the result of a Missouri man who in early May swam across a lake to her house, then wouldn't leave. Authorities sent her and the swimmer, John Yettaw, 53, to prison.

Now, Myanmar - renamed by the military and formerly known as Burma, the name that many still use to protest the dictatorship - Mrs. Clinton has said that ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Thailand, where she is in attendance, should weigh ejecting Myanmar.

The Obama Administration is reviewing U.S. policy on Myanmar, home to about 43 million people.

"Most of our allies in the region are equally concerned about Aung San Suu Kyi and the relentless persecution that she has faced over so many years," Mrs. Clinton told NPR. "So I think it is understandable that the United States and others would say, no, wait, we can't change anything with respect to your country unless you release Aung San Suu Kyi."

So America cannot ease up on sanctions if Myanmar stubbornly refuses to let the democracy leader go. That's one reason Mrs. Clinton and others are watching to see whether the junta continues the trial or drops the bogus charges and releases her, which would be an amazing feat that would stun, and please, the world.

Mrs. Clinton is also closely watching Myanmar because it is believed to be cooperating with the North Korean military. It has been reported that the U.S. Navy tracked a ship, possibly with weapons, heading to Myanmar earlier this summer. She also told the radio station that reports that North Korea is building tunnels in Myanmar are valid.

"I worked with my counterparts in China, India, and Russia, and we made it clear to Myanmar that they are expected to comply also with the U.N. Security Council resolution that was crafted to prevent the export of technology," she said.

That may be, but given Myanmar's propensity to be stubborn about releasing Ms. Suu Kyi, I'm not optimistic that the junta will cooperate on this issue.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

Contact her at rrussell@theblade.com



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