House Arrest Extended for Burma's Suu Kyi

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A member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) holds a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi. i

A member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) holds a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi during Sunday's protest. Khin Maung Win/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Khin Maung Win/AFP/Getty Images
A member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) holds a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi.

A member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) holds a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi during Sunday's protest.

Khin Maung Win/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of demonstrators were in the streets of Myanmar's capital Sunday to protest the government's decision to extend the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Prize winner has been in detention — or under house arrest — for 11 of the past 17 years.

Her latest one-year detention order expired this weekend, but was renewed for another year by the military junta that runs the country known to many as Burma.

The nation's rulers are seemingly impervious to demands from the U.S. and the European Union to free her.

Suu Kyi, now 62, is entering her fifth straight year of detention. She is held virtually incommunicado in her lakeside home in the capital. She is allowed to see almost no one except her doctor and the occasional visiting U.N. enovy.

Yet Myanmar's military leaders "definitely" still fear her, says Aung Zaw, an opponent of the military leaders. From exile, Aung Zaw edits Irrawady magazine.

"Inside their minds they know she is hugely popular and a political force," Aung Zaw says. "That's why I think they're scared to release her. If you release her now, I'm sure hundreds of thousands of people would come out to greet her."

And that, Aung Zaw says, is something Myamar's military leadership cannot allow, since it might mark the beginning of the end of their rule, which has been marked by widespread human rights abuses against opposition activists and ethnic minorities.

The government's actions led the U.S. and some European nations to impose economic sanctions against the regime, though some analysts say the sanctions have largely failed.

"If the desired effect was to change the behavior of the military junta, it has not done so," says Thitinan Pongsukdirak, who heads the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalangkorn University.

"The junta is more entrenched than before, more powerful, more resourceful, and the sanctions have hurt people, have hurt the Burmese people," Thitinan says. "So this does not mean we should go headlong into trading and investing with Myanmar, but I think sanctions have to be reconsidered."

Thitinan says sanctions have failed largely because regional powers such as China and India aren't on board. They have continued to do business with — and even arm — the junta.

The larger neighbors are eager to exploit Myanmar's energy resources.

In January, for example, China and Russia joined together to veto a U.S.-backed U.N. resolution calling on Myanmar to end its repression of political opponents and ethnic minorities.

Aung Zaw says Myanmar's military leadership interpreted that veto as a green light to crack down on dissent even more.

He is worried the regime may now conclude it has enough friends to do as it pleases. He's worried the generals might simply keep Aung San Suu Kyi in detention indefinitely, waiting for her to die.

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