The town of Dala is “a small but scenic and charming town which is a 10-minute boat ride down the Rangoon River from Yangon,” reports the military junta that runs Myanmar. Maybe, but it is unlikely that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and opposition leader, is enjoying her stay in Dala. She has been stuck in her car there, along with about a dozen supporters, after being stopped by police last week. Her roadside detention undercuts the junta’s claims that the situation in Myanmar is normalizing. Any country that resorts to such desperate measures to isolate the opposition is anything but “normal.”
Two years ago, the government was just as heavy-handed. Ms. Suu Kyi twice tried to visit fellow members of the National League of Democracy, the organization she heads, when the military stopped her car. The first standoff lasted five days. The second continued for 13 days, and only ended when Ms. Suu Kyi’s life was thought to be in danger.
This time, the government first claimed that her safety was threatened by “armed insurgent separatist forces.” Then it said that the threat came from people with “sound reasons for resentment and indignation toward her” as a result of her calls for an end to foreign aid and investment. NLD officials said there had been no reports of violence in the area.
The standoff has been condemned worldwide. Myanmarese activists in Tokyo have appealed to the Japanese government to use its influence with the junta on Ms. Suu Kyi’s behalf. The Foreign Ministry says it has not yet decided what to do.
Japan should make it clear to the junta that such behavior is intolerable. It should be unflinching in its support for Ms. Suu Kyi’s freedom to travel and to meet with whomever she wants. Japan will be supported by ASEAN nations worried that the standoff might tarnish their image and jeopardize a meeting with European Union foreign ministers scheduled for December, the first ministerial meeting of the two groups since Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997. The meetings have been on hold because of European concerns about Myanmar’s human-rights record. The standoff in Dala proves that they are justified.
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