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Burma Denies Aung San Suu Kyi on Hunger Strike - 2003-09-01


Burma has denied a U.S. government announcement that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is on a hunger strike to protest her detention.

Burma's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an official statement today (Monday) calling the announcement released Sunday by the U.S. State Department "groundless."

The U.S. statement said Aung San Suu Kyi had begun a hunger strike, protesting her detention by the country's military rulers for the past three months.

A State Department spokesman in Washington said the United States is deeply concerned for Aung San Suu Kyi's safety and well-being, and is once again calling on Burmese military rulers to release her and all other political detainees.

The U.S. State Department did not say where it got its information, and human rights groups could not verify the hunger strike report.

A government statement in Rangoon earlier today (Monday) did not directly address the question of whether the opposition leader is on a hunger strike. The statement said members of the Burmese junta "believe it is quite odd for the United States State Department to make such a claim without stating any sources to verify its allegation."

But London-based Amnesty International said today (Monday) it is gravely concerned for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's safety and urged the military government to release her "immediately and unconditionally."

Another group, the Burma Campaign UK, called on the United Nations to press for her release with an arms embargo and economic sanctions.

Britain also expressed concern about Aung San Suu Kyi's welfare and her reported hunger strike. Speaking in London, Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien said he told Burmese Ambassador Kyaw Win that the national reconciliation process in Burma depends on Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize (12 years ago) for her efforts to restore democracy in Burma, has not been seen in public since she was arrested in late May.

Two representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross were allowed to visit Aung San Suu Kyi on July 28th. A Red Cross official in Rangoon told a reporter (for Associated Press) today there is "no concrete information about the hunger strike."

The official added that the Red Cross is trying to arrange another visit with her.

Burma's prime minister, General Khin Nyunt, said in a speech Saturday that the military government intended to institute democratic reforms and hold new elections, but he gave no timetable for those moves. The general also did not indicate whether the junta would open negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters in the National League for Democracy party.

Sources close to the Rangoon government told VOA's Burmese service last week that authorities there had been holding "frequent discussions" with Aung San Suu Kyi about the country's political future.

Burma's last parliamentary election was in 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy won by a landslide, but the military refused to accept the results of the vote and relinquish power.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuter.

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