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Britain pressure for Suu Kyi release

London/Tokyo, June 25 (Reuters): Britain and Japan heaped pressure on Myanmar today to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi while UN secretary general Kofi Annan was said to be growing “increasingly alarmed” about the Nobel laureate.

A UN envoy, who saw Suu Kyi on June 10, said she was being held in “deplorable” conditions but that she was well and as feisty as ever.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told parliament Britain had made “the strongest possible representations” on behalf of Suu Kyi and urged British companies to halt trade with Myanmar. Foreign secretary Jack Straw wrote in the Financial Times newspaper that an existing asset freeze, embargoes on arms and a suspension of high-level contact might be expanded.

“We’ve made the strongest possible representations, not merely in respect of the release of the leader of the opposition but also on the restoration of proper human and democratic rights,” Blair said.

“In relation to British trade, we are making it clear to British companies that we do not believe that this is appropriate in circumstances where this regime continues to suppress the basic human rights of its people,” he added.

Straw called Myanmar’s military rulers brutal, corrupt and incompetent and he reiterated Britain’s assertion that Suu Kyi, held since May 30, was being detained in the notorious Insein jail near Yangon.

Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero Aung San, has been in detention since a clash between her followers and supporters of the government in the north of the country.

Her National League for Democracy won the country’s last elections in 1990 by a landslide but has never been allowed to govern, treated instead to imprisonment, harassment and intimidation.

Speaking after UN special envoy Razali Ismail met officials in the Japanese capital, a senior government official told reporters that Tokyo had informed Myanmar that aid would be halted if it refused to release Suu Kyi, who turned 58 this month.

“First of all, we want the early release of Suu Kyi. Under the current circumstances we will not extend economic assistance,” the official, who declined to be identified, told reporters.

“This is Japan’s policy and we have said this to the Myanmar government,” the official said. The move by one of Myanmar’s biggest aid donors and a country that has been relatively willing to engage with Yangon is likely to have even greater weight than strong criticism by the US and Britain.

Razali said that when he left Myanmar, he had sought specific assurances about Suu Kyi’s release which he did not get.

“The UN, the secretary general and a lot of people there are...increasingly alarmed about the situation,” Razali told reporters in Tokyo.

“I had said then that in one week or two weeks, one might expect that she would be released,” he said. “It is now past two weeks.” Razali declined to clarify where she was being held.

He was earlier quoted by Kyodo news agency as telling Japanese foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi that he met Suu Kyi in a “concrete house” within the grounds of a Yangon prison.

“What I can say is that where I met her was absolutely deplorable,” he added. “It was not keeping with the stature and the status of Aung San Suu Kyi as a political leader or as a national leader.”

He repeated earlier statements that he saw no signs that Suu Kyi had been injured when he met her and was in strong spirits. “She’s uncowed and feisty, she was outraged that this had happened to her,” he said. “That’s the Suu Kyi I’ve always known.”

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