Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Aung San Suu Kyi's release from captivity refused, again

Last month, the world's most famous political prisoner, who has spent 11 of the past 18 years under house arrest, was on the verge of being freed, only to be refused by Myanmar's generals at the last minute. Yet she and her supporters refuse to give up hope

By John Aglionby  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

How many more devastating setbacks will she have to endure? Aung San Suu Kyi, the inspirational, graceful and, it seems, endlessly resilient leader of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement, has had her house arrest extended by the ruling military junta, undermining growing hopes that she would finally be freed. The blow will only add to the iconic status of Suu Kyi, past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and recently proclaimed the hero of our time in a poll by the UK political weekly New Statesman magazine.

So overwhelming was her victory in the poll that she gained three times as many votes as former South African president Nelson Mandela, placed second in the list.

Richard Eyre wrote of her that she had "endured grief, danger and loneliness with extraordinary courage, all the while inspiring resistance to the [corrupt Burmese] regime." At 60, she could seek refuge abroad -- she has close ties to Britain where she studied and married her late husband -- but chooses to stay in Myanmar, drawing adulation from across the world.

May 27 should have been a day of celebration. Sixteen years ago to the day, Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a crushing 82 per cent of the vote in a general election, a majority that could not have sent a clearer message to the ruling military junta about what the nation thought of its 28-year dictatorship.

Instead, the NLD had a small gathering at its headquarters, but there was not even a squeak out of the leader to mark the event -- she remains isolated under house arrest in her home in Rangoon.

It sealed a roller-coaster of a week for Suu Kyi and her legions of supporters around the world. On May 20, she was allowed to meet Ibrahim Gambari, the UN' under-secretary-general for political affairs, during the first visit to Burma by a UN envoy in more than two years. That the junta allowed the meeting took the international community by surprise, prompting some diplomats to speculate that her current period of incarceration might be coming to an end.

Optimism mounted when Burma's police chief, Major General Khin Yi, said the democracy icon's support was waning and there would not be rallies or riots if she were released. Coming so soon after the meeting, Burmese military tea-leaf readers thought her release might be just be a matter of days away.

But the extension of house arrest on May 27 exposed the reality of life in Burma, making it clear what the woman known as both "Tara" and "the Lady" is up against and just what a charade the events of the last eight days have been.

"The generals do nothing; they give less than they have in the past and everyone congratulates them," said one activist who asked not to be named. "They go back 10 steps, then they go forward one step and everyone says the door might be open for some sort of dialogue. The generals are toying with Suu and the whole world."

It is by no means the first time the generals have toyed with Suu Kyi. In July 1995, she was released from six years of detention and house arrest as a sop to the outside world. In reality, it was a tactic to delay introducing meaningful democratic reform. During this period of detention, in addition to winning the Nobel Prize in 1991, she had also won the 1990 Rafto Human Rights Prize and the 1990 Sakharov Prize, the human rights award from the European parliament.

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