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Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #10 (19

Contrary to the editor's note we posted on Nov. 11, the Mainichi DID run Daw
Suu's Letter from Burma in November.  Here it is; sorry it's late.


Mainichi Daily News, Monday, November 24, 1997

"Raw Material"

Letter from Burma (No. 10) by Aung San Suu Kyi

	We were standing at the corner of Kaba-aye road and Gandama road in the
broiling sun.  Kaba-aye means "World Peace" and the road is named after the
pagoda built at the initiative of U Nu, the first prime minister of
independent Burma, a religious man who made no secret of his wish to become
a Buddha in a future existence.  Gandama is the Burmese name for
chrysanthemum.  The juxtaposition of the desire for peace with a beautiful
flower seemed appropriate and auspicious and somehow the riot police
surrounding us with their drab khaki, their jungle camouflage jackets and
helmets looking a little ridiculous in the middle of a city, and their
rather outmoded shields fitted into the picture as well, an eloquent contrast.
	There were some 50 uniformed police and perhaps double that number of other
security personnel in plain clothes scattered around.  We were 26, mostly
members of the youth wing of the National League for Democracy (NLD), a few
elected members of Parliament, our Chairman U Aung Shwe, our Deputy Chairman
U Tin U and myself.  We had arrived at the scene at 9 o'clock in the
morning, on our way to a meeting at the Mayangon NLD office.  This was part
of a program to recognize the NLD youth committees, a program which had
begun smoothly a week before at Thaketa, another part of Rangoon.  It was
probably the very smoothness of the reorganization process that made the
authorities decide they must try to obstruct our activities.  Of course, the
excuse they gave was that we were endangering the peace and tranquillity of
the nation.  But there we were, peacefully going about our legitimate party
work and there were the security troops with barbed wire barricades and
batons and war-like helmets and shields.  Confrontational is the word that
springs to mind.
	Just a block away from our destination, our car was stopped.  When we
attempted to proceed on foot the riot police pushed us back.  We remained at
the spot where my car was parked and had a series of exchanges with various
officials, from some minion of a township law and order restoration council
to a lieutenant-colonel, who all urged us to go back, declaring that they
could not permit us to have meetings at our offices and that we could carry
on our activities within my compound.  They seemed to have forgotten that
the road to my house had been shut off to the general public for nearly a
year; that all visitors were screened; and that some, particularly
journalists, were prevented from coming to see me.  The fact that we were
able to hold the party congress on Sept. 27 was seen by many as proof of
greater flexibility on the part of the military regime, but even on that
occasion a number of party members attempting to come to my house had been
forcibly taken away by car from the crossroads near my house to the
outskirts of Rangoon, and some guests had been turned away.
	We told the officials who tried to make us turn back that we had a right to
carry out legitimate party  activities at appropriate party  premises and
that we would not turn back until we had been to our Mayangon office, even
if all our people had already been driven away from there.  Impasse.  Just
before half past nine, an official announced that if we did not leave within
five minutes, the riot police would push us back.  We readied ourselves for
the fray.  When the five minutes were up, the riot police started to push,
shields to the fore.  We linked arms and U Aung Shwe and U Tin U took the
lead in steadying us, exhorting us to stand firm but not to retaliate if
violence were used by the authorities.  For several minutes the two opposing
groups swayed backwards and forwards, then the pushing stopped and we
remained at our original position.  It was a standoff.
	As so often happens in such situations, a spirit of camaraderie quickly
grew up within our little group.  Good humored remarks were made about the
beneficial effects of sunlight and perspiration and we prepared ourselves
for an indefinite wait.  U Aung Shwe and U Tin U moved protectively around
us, especially after a threat was made to remove the younger people by force.
	Our chairman and deputy chairman gave us practical advice on preserving
energy as well as providing us with strong psychological support by their
unwavering spirits and fatherly solicitude.  In the middle of a discussion
about the efforts of the authorities to stop us from pursuing our legitimate
party activities, U Aung Shwe turned to me and said with a laugh:  "You
won't have to think too hard about a subject for your next Mainichi article.
Lots of raw material here."
	How right he was.  A lot of raw, very raw, material indeed.  It was a
curious phenomenon, the riot police lined up in their full combat gear and
in front of them a row of policeman who had appeared after the pushing was
over.  It is the small, seemingly insignificant things that sometimes stick
in the mind.  When I think back on the three and a half hours we stood under
the hot sun on the tarmac between World Peace and Chrysanthemum roads, I
find that what troubles me most is the memory of the footgear of the
policewomen.  They were all wearing dark ankle socks and thick shoes.   One
poor unfortunate was actually sporting a pair of high heeled, narrow toed
pumps, incongruous with her socks.  My sandals were the traditional Burmese
kind with thongs and the sole was an even one inch thick, too thick for the
purpose of withstanding the shoving of riot police with metal shields.  So I
had my sandals put back in my car and wore instead a pair of flat leather
sandals gallantly offered to me by one of our group.  Consequently, my feet
were cool and at ease and I could not help following in my imagination the
swelling process of the feet of the policewomen as they remained in a
stationary position while the temperature rose inexorably.  When we told at
12:20 in the afternoon that after all we could go to our Mayangon office for
lunch we were pleased, of course, but I rather fancy the policewomen were
overjoyed.  It must have been paradise for them to be able to take the
weight off their feet.
	The next office where we were scheduled to recognize our youth committee
was Tamwe.  The chairman and other members of the Tamwe organizational
committee were called up thrice by the authorities and threatened with dire
consequences should they go ahead with arrangements for the meeting.  The
Tamwe committee replied that they would act in accordance with the decisions
of the Central Executive Committee of the NLD, whatever the consequences.
On the day of the meeting my road was barricaded on either side of my front
gate so that I could not go out to Tamwe.  Access to the Tamwe office was
also heavily guarded and those who had come for the meeting were taken off
in various commandeered vehicles and dropped off on the outskirts of Rangoon
from when they had to find their own way back into the city.  It has become
obvious that the authorities have decided on this new tactic of forcefully
taking away members of the NLD gathered for party activities to some remote
place from where it is not easy to find transport back into Rangoon.
However, the NLD members came back from their sojourns with undampened
spirits, proud of their travels in horse carts and other modes of
transportation that they had managed to contrive.
	The NLD fully intends to continue with its legitimate activities as a party
founded with the clearly declared intention of fostering democracy.  We can
look forward to more raw materials for the Mainichi in the form of our
adventures along the way to our goal.