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Myanmar Suu Kyi Stings Junta Again

September 2, 2000

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Sleeping in a car in the middle of a muddy, mosquito-infested field may not seem like a compelling political tactic, but for Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, it might just have worked.

Like the mythic mouse that strikes terror in the mighty elephant, the diminutive opposition leader has shown again that she can face down Myanmar’s military regime.

Suu Kyi, two other senior members of her National League for Democracy and 12 members of the party’s youth wing were stopped by security forces in Dala, a suburb of the capital, Yangon, on Aug. 24 while en route to do party organizational work in the countryside. Refusing government requests to return to Yangon and blocked from proceeding, they set up a makeshift camp around their two vehicles and stayed put for nine days.

Suu Kyi’s party had announced they would not voluntarily return home until they were allowed to go to their original destination 30 miles south of the capital. The standoff finally ended Friday night when she and her party were forcibly returned to the capital by riot police, said her deputy, Tin Oo.

In a statement titled ``Dala incident ends happily,″ the government said Suu Kyi and her party ``arrived home safe and sound″ Saturday morning after being driven back to Yangon in a government motorcade. Senior NLD members’ home telephones were not operating Saturday, and at least one party leader, Tin Oo, was being held under house arrest.

Despite the final outcome, analysts have suggested that Suu Kyi’s tactic bested her longtime military nemeses.

``If they had let her go and do party work, it would have proven that she and the party have beaten the military, and given her party a second wind,″ says Josef Silverstein, a Myanmar expert at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. ``On the other hand, by stopping and holding her a prisoner, they made a non-event a world event.″

Suu Kyi, 55, has shown her mettle time and again since taking up the democracy struggle in this southeast Asian nation in 1988.

Having spent much of her life abroad, she returned to her homeland to take care of her ailing mother just as mass demonstrations were breaking out against 25 years of military rule. She was quickly thrust into a leadership role, mainly because she is the daughter of martyred independence leader Gen. Aung Sun.

Taking the reigns, she rode out the military’s bloody suppression of street demonstrations to help found the National League for Democracy.

Charismatic, tireless and outspoken, her popularity threatened the country’s new set of military rulers. In 1989, detained on trumped-up national security charges, she was put under house arrest. She was not released until 1995.

Even in isolation, her principled defiance gained her fame and honor _ most notably the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

The fortunes of her democracy movement were less agreeable. The military refused to allow parliament to convene after her party won a landslide victory in a 1990 general election, and afterward party members were subjected to a nearly constant campaign of harassment and arrests.

In a cruel test of her commitment, the government in early 1999 refused to grant her husband, British academic Michael Aris, a visa to visit her, even though he was dying of cancer.

The government suggested instead that she go to her spouse’s side in Britain, an offer Suu Kyi regarded as a one-way ticket to exile. She stayed, and her husband died in March of that year.

Myanmar’s junta has long been widely condemned for its poor human rights record and failure to restore democracy, but this is a particularly inopportune time for a new run-in with Suu Kyi, Silverstein said.

Earlier this year, Myanmar _ also known as Burma _ received an unprecedented condemnation from the International Labor Organization for its use of forced labor. It was given until November to clean up its act or face serious sanctions.

Also, the U.N. General Assembly opens its high profile Millennium session this month, and reports from the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy to Myanmar and the U.N. Human Rights Commission are unlikely to paint the junta in a favorable light.

Vice President Al Gore spelled it out Thursday: ``Every day that the Burmese authorities restrain Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s isolation from the international community deepens.″

The junta itself has indirectly conceded the point, accusing Suu Kyi of staging the incident to gain attention abroad.

``This is a careful, insincere, premeditated move by Aung San Suu Kyi to attract international attention and to coincide with the upcoming (U.N.) Millennium Summit and to tarnish the image of the government,″ Foreign Minister Win Aung said Friday.

``What she would like to see is for us to arrest her and put her into prison,″ he told reporters in Yangon. ``She is provoking the government to take severe action against her so that she can have political upper hand.″

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