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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15591

Mrs HULL (2:53 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Following reports over the weekend that Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained by the authorities in Burma, would the minister inform the House of current developments in Burma? What is the government's response to these reports?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Riverina. I very much appreciate the interest she shows in the situation in Burma. I know that many members on this side of the House are very interested. The government has been very concerned to hear that Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the secretary-general of the National League for Democracy in Burma, has been taken into custody, and so too have a number of other senior members of the National League for Democracy. These actions were taken by the Burmese authorities ostensibly in response to incidents that took place on 30 May when there were clashes between Aung San Suu Kyi supporters and pro-government supporters in the northern part of Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi was travelling in that part of the country at the time. I understand that around four people were killed and 50 were injured in those confrontations.

It is the view of the Australian government that this is not a justification to detain Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters. The government urges her release immediately. I instructed our ambassador in Rangoon to convey the government's concerns straightaway to the Burmese authorities. This morning I had my department call in the Burmese Ambassador here in Canberra also to explain our concerns and call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters. I note that the United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy on Burma, Mr Razali, is due to visit Burma on Friday of this week. I hope that during his visit it will be possible for him to take up with the Burmese government these concerns of the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. Indeed, I very much hope she is released by that time.

But there is a broader and more fundamental issue, and that is that the Burmese authorities have for quite some time professed that they would be prepared to re-engage in dialogue with the National League for Democracy with a view to taking forward Burma's constitutional development. It is very disappointing that, although there have been talks from time to time between the two sides, a high level of dialogue—which the Burmese authorities, the SPDC, committed themselves to—has still not taken place, despite an assurance given to our ambassador in Rangoon in the last few days when he made a farewell call on the Foreign Minister of Burma. We very much hope that if Mr Razali continues with his visit to Burma at the end of this week he will be able to have some success in encouraging the Burmese authorities to understand the importance of engaging in serious dialogue about constitutional reform and the liberalisation of governance in Burma, and the upholding of international norms of human rights.