Radio Free Asia (RFA) has launched a question and answer show with Aung San Suu Kyi, giving the people of military-ruled Myanmar the rarest of opportunities to communicate directly with the democracy icon.
The US-funded broadcaster is airing weekly Burmese-language segments on Friday evenings with the 65-year-old opposition leader, who has been under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years and was last released last month.
Questions for Aung San Suu Kyi come in via e-mail or telephone and some have already arrived from people in Myanmar, a Radio Free Asia spokesman said, adding that 20 percent of adults there listen to the program.
Myanmar’s ruling junta clamps down hard on any dissent, but is unable technically to block the broadcasts, which the population of the majority Buddhist southeast Asian nation of 50 million can pick up on shortwave radio.
“In Burma, there is no opinion or perspective expressed on official media apart from that of the ruling regime,” Nyein Shwe, service director of RFA Burmese, said, using Myanmar’s colonial name.
“Many Burmese people never in their lifetimes imagined they would be able to hear Aung San Suu Kyi discuss her views nor ask her their questions on the radio. For them, it’s a first,” Shwe said.
A pilot episode, broadcast on Nov. 30, featured six questions from members of the diaspora living outside the country: a doctor, a cartoonist, a student leader, a monk, an activist and an ethnic leader.
Radio Free Asia provided a special audio version of the first Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the People show with Aung San Suu Kyi answering questions in English.
“We have constantly reviewed our position with regard to sanctions and once again we are going to see if there is anything we can do to improve the situation,” she said to one question, treading carefully.
Replying to another question in the inaugural RFA show, she said: “There are many things that are not satisfactory about the present roadmap for democracy. We think that this should be discussed very, very thoroughly between all those who wish to really promote the process for democracy in Burma.”
Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from detention on Nov. 13, days after a rare election, which has been widely panned by international observers, including US President Barack Obama, who said Myanmar’s “bankrupt regime” had stolen the vote.
The Obama administration launched a dialogue with Myanmar’s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has welcomed this engagement, but warned that greater human rights and economic progress are still needed.
She said in an interview last month that Washington must be “keeping your eyes open and alert and seeing what is really going on and where engagement is leading to and what changes really need to be brought about.”
Senior US official Joseph Yun was to arrive in Yangon yesterday for the first high-level talks between the two countries since Myanmar’s election and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. He will also meet with her.