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SUU KYIS FIRE BURNS QUIETLY AND STEADILY IN FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY.
By TIM McGIRK
RAGOON, Monday: In Rangoon, critics of Aung San Suu Kyi claims
that six years of house arrest imposed by the military regime have
extinguished her fire. Since her release five weeks ago, her critics say
the Nobel Peace Prize winner has rarely ventured from the house beside
Inya Lake where she was kept prisoner for so long.
No, the fire hasnt gone, Ms Suu Kyi said. Her voice stays calm
and melodious, but her eyes flash, revealing a diamond-hard
determination. Burmas ruling generals would like to believe that, but it
Ms Suu Kyi, just turned 50, says she forgives her captors but her
imprisonment has not weak-ended her resolve to bring democracy back to
Burma. Our intention is to get to the negotiating table with the military
Government. Ill work quietly and steadily for democracy, she said.
The release of Ms Suu Kyi reminded many Burmese of a Buddhist
custom: on the steps of Burmas golden pagodas, you find vendors who will
sell you a bird so that you can set it loose. The Burmese, who are mainly
Buddhists, believe that this liberation will cleanse your karma.
But diplomats and many Burmese in Rangoon think there were less
spiritual reasons for freeing Ms Suu Kyi. The military regime, they
believe, badly needs to attract foreign investment and aid into Burma.
Britain, the United States and many other nations refuse to help because
of the generals poor human-rights record.
Pro-democracy forces, led by Ms Suu Kyi, won elections in 1990,
but the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) refused to honour
the results. The army placed Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest and threw
thousands of her followers in jail. Even under house arrest, I never felt
claustrophobia, she said, adding with a laugh, I confess, I do miss the
regular hour that I used to keep when I was alone.
Ms Suu Kyi might have no choice but to deal with the generals
from inside a kind of cage. Outside, the ordinary Burmese live in terror
of spies and informers who keep track of where everybody goes and with
whom they meet. Arrests and intimidation are common. Burmese are
routinely press-ganged by the army to do everything from repair roads to
act as coolies for soldiers fighting guerrillas in the jungle. It is
hardly surprising that few Burmese dare to dissent openly.
Even at the gates of Ms Suu Kyis house a military intelligence
agent jots down the name and address of her visitors. Police with
binoculars are posed in a building across the street. She is now
accompanied by her husband, Michael Aris, an Oxfordon, and one of their
two sons, who flew out to join her as soon as she was freed.
As one foreigner in Rangoon said, The army is trying to ignore
her. Theyre acting as if Aung San Suu Kyi is just an ordinary housewife
who happens to have a lot of visitors.
Since her release, however, she has united her old party, the
National League for Democracy, and activists from the jade mountains
north of Mandalay down to the Irrawaddy delta have risked arrest to visit
Welding together her party was no small task, since the generals
set the partys leaders against each other. Some activists were locked up,
while others were forced to collaborate. Several of Burmas armed
insurgent groups also rallied to her and called for three-way talks.
Most important is the change in mood; once again, in restaurants
and in public parks, you find Burmese speaking out against the generals
misrule, if only in nervous whispers.
Its possible that the SLORC may have underestimated the
solidarity and the solidarity of my support, Ms Suu Kyi said.
One Westerner explained, The junta has an excellent spy network,
but everybody is afraid to be the one to give their bosses the bad news
of how popular she is.
Since her release, Ms Suu Kyi has urged her followers to move
cautiously. She is still waiting for a first meeting with the junta.
Rangoon is a city of rumours, but most Westerners and Burmese
dissidents agree that Ms Suu Kyis surprising release from captivity has
exposed deep fissures inside the SLORC.
Comprising more than 20 generals in their 60s and 70s, many of
whom rose from the rank of private to become regional warlords, the SLORC
has brought Burma to the edge of ruin with its xenophobia and oddball
Within the SLORC, the chairman, Than Shwe, is seen as a
pragmatist who realises that Burma can only grasp the foreign aid it
desperately needs by making some concessions to Ms Suu Kyi.
The hardliners, led by Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, in charge
of military intelligence, argue that the many business opportunities in
Burma will eventually convince Asian investors, notably from Singapore,
South Korea and Japan, to overcome their qualms about the juntas
cruelty. - Independent.
(The Canberra Times, Tuesday, August 22, 1995, page 6)