Suu Kyi ally dies in Myanmar after torture, says rights group

Oct 10, 2007 (AFP), A member of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party has died after torture and interrogation, a rights group said Wednesday, as possible talks between her and the junta failed to develop.

Win Shwe, a 42-year-old member of the opposition National League for Democracy, was arrested on September 26 near Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said in a statement.

He was held along with four other people for joining anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks in Mandalay.

"He died as a result of torture during interrogation. However, his body was not sent to his family and the interrogators indicated that they had cremated it instead," the Thailand-based watchdog said.

AAPP is run by former political prisoners who now live in exile in neighbouring Thailand. The group monitors conditions in Myanmar’s notorious prisons.

More than 2,100 people were arrested last month during the biggest anti-government protests seen here in nearly two decades. Nearly 1,000 are still being held, according to official figures.

During the crackdown the junta unleashed baton charges, tear gas and live rounds, killing at least 13 people and sparking an international outcry.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party could not immediately confirm the activist’s death.

International pressure on the military regime, meanwhile, intensified as the United States warned of new sanctions if Myanmar does not stop atrocities against its own people. The White House also demanded a probe into the democracy activist’s death.

"The United States strongly condemns the atrocities committed by the junta and calls for a full investigation into the death of Win Shwe during his detention in Burma," said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.

Under pressure from the United Nations after its deadly crackdown on the protests, the junta has appointed Aung Kyi, a general seen as a moderate, to liaise with Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner.

But the NLD said that the general had yet to make any contact.

"The authorities have seen a need to open a process of dialogue by appointing a liaison officer," NLD spokesman Nyan Win said.

"It is still too early to welcome him, because we do not know what he will do or when the dialogue will start."

In an apparent attempt to forestall punitive UN action, the junta has made a series of conciliatory moves.

The military last week said that junta leader Than Shwe was willing to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the past 18 years.

But it also said those talks would come with strict conditions attached, including a demand that she drop support for the international community to slap more sanctions on Myanmar.

The NLD, which won 1990 elections but has never been allowed to govern, issued a statement Tuesday insisting that any talks be held without conditions.

"The statement we released yesterday was not a rejection" of the government’s offer, Nyan Win said. "We just want to let the people know the real situation."

A Western diplomat in Yangon said the appointment of Aung Kyi, who has a track record of dealing with the UN, was one of a number of recent "positive" signals from the regime, but warned against unbridled optimism.

"They have taken one step forward, but be cautious because they could still take two steps back," he told AFP.

The United States, France and Britain on Friday submitted a draft UN Security Council statement condemning the regime, but were forced to soften the tone after resistance from China, one of Myanmar’s few remaining allies.

The Security Council Wednesday began consultations to finalise a watered-down version deploring the military crackdown and calling for the release of all political detainees.

Protests in Myanmar began in mid-August amid outrage at an overnight hike in fuel prices that left many commuters unable even to afford the bus fare to work.

The movement took off in late September when Buddhist monks led up to 100,000 supporters onto the streets in peaceful marches that became a potent threat to the regime.

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