SA condemns Myanmar decision

Tuesday, August 11, 2009
By: 
Bathandwa Mbola

Pretoria - The South African Government has condemned today's verdict against Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, saying the opportunity for nation building has been lost.

Ms Suu Kyi, head of Burma's National League for Democracy, was found guilty of violating the conditions of her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American to stay at her home. 

"The South African government believes an opportunity for movement towards democratisation, nation building and reconciliation has been lost," said Deputy International Relations and Co-operation Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim on Tuesday. 

The 64-year-old Nobel Peace laureate has been in detention in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for 14 of the last 20 years. 

She has now been ordered to serve an 18-month sentence for allowing an uninvited American to stay at her home. 

The verdict, which was commuted from a sentence of three years in jail, flies in the face of international pressure aimed at securing her release.

Over the period of suspension, Ms Suu Kyi is set to stay at her Yangon lake-side residence with prescriptions that she is allowed to watch state-run MRTV and read newspapers as well as receive medical treatment. 

She is also allowed to meet guests but with permission from the government, and if there is any demand, she can present it in writing. 

Under such conditions, if she abides by the rules prescribed for her, all the remaining terms could be exempted. 

According to Tuesday's verdict, Ms Suu Kyi's two female housemates, Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, were also sentenced to three years' prison terms each, but were also given one and a half years' commutation by the Myanmar's State Peace and Development Council.

The remaining one and a half year term set the two housemates to stay at home together with Ms Suu Kyi. 

According to the court verdict, the American citizen John William Yettaw was given a seven-year jail term.

The South African government called for Ms Suu Kyi's immediate release so that she can participate in preparations for the 2010 elections.

South Africa's government called on all political role players in Myanmar to start an inclusive dialogue to create conditions for democratisation and political inclusivity.

South Africa joins the European Union in condemning the verdict. The EU has vowed to take action against what it calls "targeted measures" by the military regime.

"The EU will respond with additional targeted measures against those responsible for the verdict," the European Union's Swedish presidency said in a statement on behalf of the 27-nation bloc. 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said any new EU sanctions had to hit the junta where it hurt. 

The new measures "must in particular target the resources that they directly profit from, in the wood and ruby sector," said a statement from his office. 

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "saddened and angry" at the verdict in the "sham trial".

Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962.

The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy uprising. 

Ms Suu Kyi's party won 392 of 495 parliament seats in 1990 elections, but the military ignored the results. Ms Suu Kyi has since became a symbol of Burma's suppressed democracy and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.