[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Interview wi
Subject: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Interview with THE NATION's Chief Editor
People are more important
The Nation Editor-in-Chief Suthichai Yoon and Editor Thepchai
Yong talked to Aung San Suu Kyi last weekend at her heavily-
guarded residence in Rangoon where she was put under house
arrest for six years. Following is the first part of the
edited text of the interview which will be broadcast on
Nation News Talk on Channel 9 starting at 9 pm tonight.
Q. Will you travel to Bangkok to receive the honorary doctorate
in political science that Thammasat University has conferred on
you in recognition of your peaceful democratic struggle?
A. I would very much to come but I cannot say at this moment when
I shall be able to come.
Q. So you have no plans to travel outside Burma at the moment?
A. Not at the moment because there is lot of work to be done here
and also lots of organisation to take care of.
Q. Didn't you say earlier that you would go to Oslo to pick up
the Nobel Peace Prize Award?
A. Actually, the Norwegian ambassador invited me to come to Oslo
to receive the award and I said personally the first foreign
country I would like to visit is Norway because they have
supported us so staunchly. But it was a promise. It was that I
would try to visit Norway at the first opportunity.
Q.How about stopping by in Bangkok on your way to Norway?
A.I could stop over on the way back as well. I promised Norway
that it would be the first country I would visit.
Q. How does Thailand relate to you? Your father founded the
Burmese Independence Army in Bangkok in 1941 and you must have
travelled through Thailand a number of times and have friends
A. I must admit that for the last six years through reading
newspapers like The Nation and other publications in Bangkok
which have been very supportive, there are many people in
Thailand who really understand our situation and really want to
help us. This, for me, has been a tremendous encouragement that
there's so much support for our cause in Thailand. You have been
so strong in many of the things you have written. And I heard
that there is sometimes pressure on you to tone down your
articles and yet you remain very strong. Newspapers in Thailand
always keep an interest on Burma. For me, Thailand in general is
a friendly and supportive country. there have been problems, of
course. Our democratic forces have complained about the official
Thai policy. And I know that there has been trouble with refugees
camps. But this is something natural and normal because when
there are refugees, there must be spats with the local people.
But on the whole, the people of Thailand are very sympathetic and
Q. What about the government of Thailand?
A. We have had complains in the past about official Thai policy.
I would like to ask the government of Thailand to put the people
of Burma first. The people are more important than the
government. And even the government itself would not say it is
more important than the people. Certainly, it's the people who
are more important.
Q. What do you mean when you say people are more important than
A. Their aspirations, their hopes, their situation. When you
think of investment and aid you should really look at how far
they help the common people, the really poor people. We are not
really interested in investment that will help the rich to get
richer. I hope you understand that such a situation can snowball
and the rich get richer and richer all the time while the poor
hardly find any change in their conditions.
Q. Some of the Thai officials believe that your release was due
partly to the success of Thailand's constructive engagement
policy toward Burma?
A. I frankly do not know how successful the constructive
engagement policy and international pressure were. But of course,
officially, nobody would ever admit that they have given in to
pressure. We'll have to wait a few years more to know what
happened within inner government circles in order to evaluate how
successful the constructive engagement policy was.
Q. Did you hear about constructive engagement policy while you
were under house arrest?
A. Yes, all the time.
Q. What was your first reaction?
A. I was rather surprised. My first reaction was that it was
something to be expected. It did worry me that they might carry
it too far and would adversely affect the progress of democracy.
Q. How constructive has the constructive engagement policy been?
A. The question is for whom has it been constructive. That we
have yet to find out. Was it constructive for the forces of
democracy? Was it constructive for the Burmese people in general?
Was it constructive for a limited business community? Or it
constructive for Slorc? This is the question: for whom was it
Q. Was it constructive for the forces of democracy or NLD at all?
A. I have yet to find any hard evidence that it affected us
directly although some have said that because of the constructive
engagement policy I have been released. But nobody has said
exactly why I have been released. So we can't take that for
Q. Burma is being admitted by Asean into the family of nations.
What kind of change do you want to see in Asean policy toward
A. I would like the Asean nations to look closely at conditions
among the ordinary Burmese people and not just to look at place
like Mandalay and Rangoon. And even in Rangoon there are certain
parts which seem more prosperous and yet there are other parts
which have not changed the last 10-15 years. I can recognize
those parts which remain exactly the same as they were a number
of years ago. I would like Asean to think of our long-term
relationship and long-term development of Burma and to consider
the fact that you cannot have economic progress without peace and
Q. What kind of advice would you give to the government as Burma
moves toward joining Asean?
A. It is in our NLD booklet that we hope one day Burma will be a
member of Asean because I do believe in this regional community
of nations which is very good for the region and very good on the
whole for the world to have such community. so one day I very
much hope that Burma will be a member of Asean. But I understand
that (former Singaporean prime minister) Lee Kuan Yew said a few
months ago that it's going to be a number years before Burma is
ready to be in a condition to join Asean.
Q. Would Burma integration into the regional community accelerate
the move toward democracy in Burma?
A. I am not certain about that. I do not know just how effective
the persuasive parts of the Asean nations are when it comes to
internal change. I do notice that while promoting the policy of
constructive engagement some Asean nations are careful to say
that they do not interfere in the internal affairs of another
country. If they do not interfere in the internal affairs of
another country then how far can they help us achieve change.
Q.Would you consider it and interference if an Asean country
starts commenting about the pace of democratic change in Burma?
A. I don't think so because the world is getting smaller all the
time. We have to accept that no country is really free from some
degree to international opinions and external influence. There
is, of course, a limit as to how far people can be allowed to
interfere in the internal affairs of a nation. One does not
expect them to come marching in or to introduce measures that
would interfere with our sovereignty. But if we care about our
regional peace and stability we should care about the kind of
governments that are in place in those countries.
Q. Do you agree with sanctions?
A. I have one reservation about sanctions alone. I do want to
make sure that it does not hurt the ordinary people. Whoever
thinks of sanctions should study the situation carefully to make
certain that whatever sanctions to be implemented. As I
understand it the economic change that has taken place in Burma
the last six years has not really filtered down to the question
whether sanctions in any way will affect the general public
Q. How responsive is the military regime in Burma to outside
A. They are not unaware of outside pressure. They are not
completely oblivious to it. And I hope as they have more dealings
with the international community and as they get more mature they
will have a greater respect for international opinions.
Q. Are they getting more mature?
A. That I cannot say. Apparently some of them said I have they
become more mature. I hope when they say that they are comparing
me with themselves.
Q. Are there signs that the military will transfer power to a
A. It's too early to talk about such a thing. There are some
things that we prefer to do quietly at the moment. And when the
time is right and we think that we should comment on the rate of
progress and on our efforts to achieve dialogue, we shall speak
Q. Does that mean you will have talks with the government without
making public statements until the time comes when you have some
A. I just mean that at this time I don't want to speculate openly
on when we think they might be talks and how the talks might
develop. If we have too many prior expectations it's difficult
for us to get down to a working relationship. If one side lays
down conditions the other side will also want to lay down
conditions. So to get dialogue going smoothly a period of quiet
discussion is necessary.
Q. Does that mean you don't have a specific objective at the
moment and you would let the talks continue and find out whether
you can be satisfied with a certain level of compromise from the
A. I am not going as far as that. I am just saying that at this
moment we don't even yet have a specific target when we hope to
Q. You mentioned Nelson Mandela in some of your interviews. Do
you foresee a South Africa solution for Burma?
A. Not exactly a South Africa solution because we are not South
Africa. I was just using South Africa as a model for the way in
which you can achieve settlement through dialogue. There was a
time when nobody would have believed that such a thing could be
possible. I would like to use South Africa as an example as
opposed to the Yugoslavian situation where people just would not
consider sitting down talking with the result that everything is
in ruins and nobody has gained from it. In South Africa, Mandela
and others who at one time were very active and rigid in some of
their views over the apartheid problem became very flexible over
the years and decided in the end that negotiation was the only
Q. How do you see your role in the next step of the political
solution in this country?
A. Now I feel that my role is once more to unite the democratic
forces and to revive those parts of our movement which have been
intimidated in the last six years.
Q. Will you demand the release of political prisoners as a
A. We have urged in my first statement the authorities to release
political prisoners as soon as possible. But we are not starting
out with conditions. We are starting with a clear objective of
getting people to sit around the table so we can start talking
Q. Is that happening?
A. No. As you can see at the table we are sitting around like
this one, it's just you and me.
Q. Are there signs that they are willing to talk?
A. I am not able to say whether they are unwilling or willing.
Let me say that the moment the positions seem very neutral. I
have not seen overt signs of unwillingness nor willingness. But
it is still a little too early in the day.
Q. Is there any open line of communication at the moment?
A. There is a line of communication. I have kept my military
intelligence personnel at the gate. So I am not out touch with
Q. You have told your supporters not to expect too much, too
quickly. What are their expectations now?
A. I think they understand what I mean. One of the saddest things
about Burma is that a lot of my supporters do not trust the
authorities. There is a climate of suspicion in Burma. Everybody
is afraid that somebody else is an informer. To build up a
climate of trust is going to be one of the most difficult jobs.
And the people understand perfectly well when I say don't raise
your expectations too high, don't be in such a hurry. A lot of
them, in fact, have told me to be careful because they can't
really believe that I have been released.
Q. If your supporters can't trust the authorities do you trust
A. They will have to show that they are trustworthy. We would
need indications of their trustworthiness before we can trust
them. It's a mutual process.
Q. Do they trust you?
A. You must ask them the question. I would like to know the
answer too. They have dealt with me for six years and they know a
lot about me. I would be grateful if you ask them: Do you trust
Q. You have surprised a lot of people by saying that you have no
ill feeling or resentments toward your former captors.
A. Has that come as a surprise? Most of our people who have lived
under far worse conditions than I in In Sein jail and other jails
have no ill feelings either. It's fortunate that my colleagues
are all very fine and honourable people and they always look
forward to the future and not the past. And because they are so
strong in themselves and so committed, they have been able to
bear all the troubles of the last six years and yet have to no
sediment of ill will.
[Interview with The Nation's Chief Editor- Second Part]
Q. Did the six years of house arrest change you or your attitude
to the pursuit of democracy?
A. It's not just me. I was very happy to find that so many of my
colleagues have come out without any ill will and they really had
a tough time, I was under house arrest in while they were in
jail. All right this is not a most beautiful house in the world
but is a lot comfortable than In Sein Jail or any other jail in
the country. Conditions at some of the prisons are very
uncomfortable. But they have come out any ill feelings. To me it
does not seem at all a surprise that I have no ill feelings. Why
should I when they don't? We are all very much of the same mind.
Q. Do the authorities appreciate your absence of ill feelings
A. I hope they do. They also should learn not to harbor ill
Q. What kind of political role do you think the military would
want to see you play?
A. They might not all have the same opinion. It's possible that
some military leaders think I should play a certain kind of role,
while others think I should play another kind of role. I cannot
speak for them at all. They did try to stop me from continuing my
political role and offered me the freedom to leave the country.
But I never accepted that. I made it quite clear in my statement
in January that I intend to go on playing an active role.
Q. Are you suggesting that there may be a split within the
A. No. No. I don't think so. There may be differences of opinion
as to what they want to see me do. I think on the whole they all
agreed that it would be better for them if I left politics. But
since I have not done so they may now have a new idea as to what
they wish to me do. But I have made it very clear that I intend
to go on playing an active political role.
Q. Are there absolutely no conditions for your release?
A. No conditions. I would not have accepted any conditions
anyway. And I think they knew that.
Q. Do you fear that if you leave the country you would not be
allowed back again?
A. Yes. That's why I am not coming to Thammasat University in a
Q. Did the military say anything about your leaving the country?
A. No. No. No. We don't talk about that. It's for me to decide
when I leave. And I think they know that I am not going to leave.
Q. Does that mean you will stay here to try to find a mode of
negotiations, that will bring about a solution? Do you have a
time-frame in mind?
A. Not at the moment. But there may come a time when we would
like to see more progress by such an such a period. But I hope it
will not come to that in the right way.
Q. if invited, would you and NLD be willing democracy? ~to be
part of the National Convention?
It all depends very much on the government will incorporate us or
other people and where the National convention is heading. The
National Convention is only a little. There are all kinds of
National Conventions. It depends very much on the kind of
national convention to which we are invited.
Q. We can see lots of construction work going on in and around
Rangoon, new hotels especially. What does this mean to Burma?
New hotels. That's exactly what it mean to Burma. And I am
surprised that they are building so many hotels, nothing but
hotels. And that I must frankly say is a little worrying. I would
like to see new schools, new hospitals, new nurseries, new
libraries, new bookshops. But everywhere there are hotels. That I
think is a little worrying.
Q. You must have been surprised seeing all these new buildings
after emerging from six years of house arrest. Not really,
because I had been led to expect more change. There are many
parts of Rangoon which remain totally unchanged. If you go around
in a car you will see that the greater parts of Rangoon remain
totally unchanged. I had been led to expect, just from listening
to the news, that most of Rangoon had changed. This is not the
case at all. Only a few areas of Rangoon have changed, in the
sense that they are putting up new hotels. I am getting tired of
hotels. Everywhere I go I find hotels. That one is a hotel. That
is another hotel. That is an inn. That is a motel. It seems
rather unbalanced to me that there should be so many hotels.
Q. What can be done to give it a proper balance?
This is what all those who want to help Burma should think about.
When we think of development, we should think of the of the
broader human development of the country rather than economic
development in narrow terms of more investments, tourists and
Q. Your environment is also being threatened. This is the same
lesson we have learned in Thailand and other countries.
A. I have heard that but, of course, haven't seen it with my own
Q. Is it happening here in Burma?
A. I have heard it is happening along the border where we have so
many teak forest. In Rangoon, trees have been cut down in the
interest of hotels.
Q. So you have been talking to NLD leaders and supporters?
A. Almost everyday. Yes, we are in constant contact.
Q. Do you feel encouraged by their attitude?
A. Yes. Yes. You must have heard the general view that the NLD in
the last six years was a completely spent force and no longer
viable as a political party. I do not think this is true at all.
Of course, it has been dampened considerably by all the
restrictions imposed on it during the last six years. But we
still have the support of the people.
Q. Is NLD enjoying the same level of support it did before?
A. Not the same level of overt support. A lot of our members were
expelled. I was expelled, too. Some left out of fear. So overtly,
perhaps there is not as much support for the NLD as before the
election. But we as the democratic movement, not necessarily the
NLD as a party, seems to have a stronger support among the people
these days than before 1990.
Q. Do you think the military should have a role in whatever
future solution that you may come up with?
The military, of course, has a role to play in the country
because, after all, we need an army.
Q. What about political role?
A. It's up to the people to decide. It's the people of Burma who
must decide what role they wish to assign to which force within
Q. Personally, what do you think the role of the military should
A. I have always said that I wish the military to be an
honourable professional army because that is the best way they
can protect their interests as well as the interests of the
country. But what is important is how the people see their role.
In the end, whatever role is assigned to whatever body it will
survive in the long run only if the people approved of it.
Q. You have criticized the National Convention drafting the new
constitution. Do you think the constitution is so far on the
A. The draft constitution is certainly not heading on the track
to democracy. So I think they should be open to negotiations.
Q. What basic principles do you want to see in the constitution?
A. The basic principle of any genuine democratic government is
that the people should be able to decide whom they want to be at
the helm of the nation and when remove these people. Every truly
democratic government must have the mandate of the people
and proper institutions to ensure that this mandate is given.
Q. Now that you have been freed, what stand should the world
community take toward Burma? .
A. First of all, the release of other political detainees. I am
the only one who has been released in the last three weeks. There
are hundreds of other political detainees left. And secondly, to
encourage dialogue and negotiations. This is not just for the
sake of Burma but for the sake of establishing an international
code of behaviour that problems are settled through negotiation.
This would be an advantage to every country if we set a precedent
that human beings sit down and talk to each other and solve their
problems through negotiations and not through repression.
Q. Your message to all the potential donor countries and
investors is "don't rush."
A. Not to rush and to please encourage a climate of dialogue and
Q. What If the military leaders continue to ignore you? They
would allow you to talk to the press and to your people but they
themselves will not move?
A. We will cross the bridges when we come to them.
Q. Are you prepared for disappointments?
A. Of course, we are prepared. But we will certainly not reveal
all our strategies. We can't put all our cards on the table at
Q. Have you made preparations for such eventuality?
A. My father used to say you have to hope for the best and
prepare for the worst. And I always live according to that
Q. Are you yourselves prepared to run the country either as
president or prime minister?
A. The advantage of being somebody in a democratic party is that
you don't really have to prepare yourself as an individual for
such responsibility because you are not going to be a dictator.
You are going to be working as part of a team. And we have a good
team. So I do not think I have to prepare myself in particular.
We have a team which has the trust and confidence of the country.
We have the ability to shoulder whatever responsibility the
people wish to give to us.
Q. Are the military leaders on the right track in getting the
minority groups to the negotiating table.
A. Yes. The ceasefires are a very good idea. Ceasefires mean a
decrease in human sufferings. But those are not permanent peace
settlement. And that everybody has to admit that ceasefire is
ceasefire. It is not permanent peace. This is just the very first
step. We will have to go on and work for permanent peace. And we
must hope there will not be a regression and that ceasefire
agreements will not be broken.
Q. How would you handle the problem of the minorities if you have
a say, especially along the Thai-Burmese border?
A. In the end, there will have to be negotiated settlement. They
will have to talk. There are only two ways of settling conflict
either you shoot each other or you talk to And I prefer the
Q. What would be the proper framework for a real union of Burma
to be really established?
A. First of all, we have to build up a climate of trust. This is
what is missing in Burma. Until we build up a climate of trust we
can't even start effective negotiations. It is easy enough to sit
around the table but if everybody is suspicious of everybody we
will never be able to come to any settlement acceptable to all.
So we have to Show the ethnic people that there is a government
which they can trust and which sympathizes with their aspirations
and their problems. And then I think we have to take it from
there. It is possible that some of the ethnic groups, may already
have their own suggestions as to what kind of framework they wish
to be in place before they can negotiate effectively and it is
also possible that particular framework is something that will
have to be negotiated.
Q. Would you make the issue of the minorities a priority in your
negotiation with the military leaders.
A. The first thing is to start talking to each other. Then, of
course, I accept that without the participation of the ethnic
people we will not be able to really get lasting peace. So they
certainly must come in.
Q. When you sit- down with the military leaders what tops your
A. That depends on when we sit down.
Q. If next week?
A. If we sit down next week then I'll have to ask them to release
all the political prisoners.
Q. Did the six years of house arrest have any effect on you
physically and mentally?
A. Physically, I have had problems with my neck even though it
had nothing to do with my house arrest. I spent a lot of time
reading. Mentally and emotionally, I think it has strengthen me.
This is what all of us who were in prisons during the last six
years have found out. Very few have been weaken but the majority
of us have become stronger. We have had to in order to survive.
SO perhaps we should be thankful to them(the authority).
Q. Did your separation from your family any point weaken your
No, it did not weaken my resolve. I have to admit that I had to
train myself not to think about them too much. There was nothing
I could do to help. It was a matter of discipline that I did not
let my mind dwell on matters of which I could do nothing.
Q. Did you have any idea at all as to how long the house arrest
A. No. They started out saying it was going to be one year and
then three years. Then the interpretation of the law said it was
to be six years. By that time I did not set any time limit and
told myself to take it as long as it was necessary.
Q. What was your normal day like?
A. Later by the time I got used to it I would I get up at 4.30
am, meditated for an hour and listened to the radio for a couple
of hours. There were different stations I listened to, like the
BBC World Service, the VOA Burmese Service, the Democratic Voice
of Burma. So I started the day with a full grasp of what was
going on in the world outside. Then I divided up the rest of the
day between reading and doing house work.
Q. What was the worst part of life under house arrest?
A. I worried most about my colleagues how they were and how their
Q. The good part?
A. The good pan was that I had a lot of time to read.
Q. Were you allowed to get mail during the six years?
A. In the beginning I was allowed to get letters from my family
but later after the 20th of July 1990 when they extended by
period of detention it was obvious that they weren't going to
respect the results of 1990 election I no longer accepted letters
and parcels from my family.
Q. Did you feel at any stage that some harm might come to you?
A. No. Let me put it this way, It didn't worry me. I was
objectively aware of the fact that I was in a very vulnerable
position. They could do anything they liked to me at any time. My
greatest protection was the affection and the support of the
people of Burma. The international community too, of course. But
in the end it was really the support and affection of the people
of Burma and respect they had for my late my father which they
extended to me which gave the best protection
Q. Do you feel safe going around Rangoon?
A. This is what all of I think I am quite safe. I do not know. I
cannot guarantee my safety.
Q. You have written in your book "Freedom from Fear" that it is
not power that corrupts but fear of losing power." What is your
own fear today?
A. Fear of letting down people who have at faith in me. I would
rather go down myself than letting them down. But I do not think
I will let them down though I will not be able to do everything
they want. But I have never promised them anything. I simply said
I would try my best.
Q. Are you worried that you might not be able to live up to the
expectations of the people?
A. No- I don't think there is any point of worrying about that. I
will try my best. People should not be encouraged to have too
strong a feeling about one person. I always said that we should
not develop this kind of feeling which is in contrary to the
interest of democracy.
Q. What message do you convey to the people when you go out to
A. I ask them for their support. I tell them with their support I
am confident I will be able to reach the goal they want to reach.
And without their support that will not be possible.
Typed by the Research Department of the ABSDF (MTZ)