WASHINGTON, June 2, 2003--Police and thugs attacked students traveling with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she visited northern Burma, according to a new eyewitness account obtained by Radio Free Asia (RFA). This account contradicts the junta's claim that deadly violence erupted spontaneously between rival pro- and anti-government factions.
Aung San Suu Kyi reached Saing Byin Gyi village, about 500 miles north of the capital Rangoon, at approximately 6:30 p.m. local time Friday, where she made remarks aimed at encouraging the relatives of her detained followers in the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), according to the account. At about 7:00 p.m., two miles outside of Depayin village, about five trucks loaded with members of the junta-sponsored Union Solidarity Development Association stopped them in the road--disgorging police, men dressed as monks, and convicts.
Guided by the headlights of their vehicles, these men then charged several hundred NLD supporters and Aung San Suu Kyi's entourage with bamboo stakes between two and three feet long, according to the eyewitness account, which was obtained by RFA's Burmese service.
"When the attackers tried to hit Aung San Suu Kyi�s car, four or five students covered her with their bodies, and they were beaten hard. The driver turned the car into a dirt road and drove off from the scene. NLD Vice Chairman Tin Oo was also beaten up and was seen being taken away by three policemen," it said.
"A group of motorcyclists who tried to follow Aung San Suu Kyi�s car were intercepted between Butalin and Monywa, and about 100 police beat up its riders. The bodies of a young monk and a student, killed in the clash, were taken back to Monywa. However, two military trucks chased this group, and the group had to flee, leaving the bodies, which the soldiers took away with them."
The ruling junta, which has controlled Burma since a violent crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, has claimed that violent clashes between NLD supporters and thousands of pro-government protesters left four people dead and 50 others injured. The government also claims to have placed Aung San Suu Kyi and 19 members of her party in "protective custody." Aung San Suu Kyi's whereabouts remained unknown as of Monday.
Reports of what exactly happened on Friday remain sketchy, in part because the junta has cut phone lines of residents near where the incident occurred and of senior NLD members.
The incident has promopted an international outcry. The British government in particular has voiced concern following reports from Burma that Aung San Suu Kyi may have been injured.
RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo and Kham) and Uyghur.