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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Democracy Advocate Aung San Suu Kyi Released in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi has been released in Myanmar.

"Pro-democracy hero Aung San Suu Kyi walked free Saturday after more than seven years under house arrest, welcomed by thousands of cheering supporters outside the decaying lakefront villa that has been her prison.

"Her guards effectively announced the end of her detention, pulling back the barbed-wire barriers that sealed off her potholed street and suddenly allowing thousands of expectant supporters to surge toward the house. Many chanted her name as they ran. Some wept.

"A few minutes later, with the soldiers and police having evaporated into the Yangon twilight, she climbed atop a stepladder behind the gate as the crowd began singing the national anthem.

"'I haven't seen you for a long time,' the 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize Laureate said to laughter, smiling deeply as she held the metal spikes that top the gate. When a supporter handed up a bouquet, she pulled out a flower and wove it into her hair.

"Speaking briefly in Burmese, she told the crowd, which quickly swelled to as many as 5,000 people: 'If we work in unity, we will achieve our goal.'


"But while her release thrilled her supporters — and also clearly thrilled her — it came just days after an election that was swept by the ruling junta's proxy political party and decried by Western nations as a sham designed to perpetuate authoritarian control.

"Many observers have questioned whether it was timed by the junta to distract the world's attention from the election. It is also unlikely the ruling generals will allow Suu Kyi, who drew huge crowds of supporters during her few periods of freedom, to actively and publicly pursue her goal of bringing democracy to Myanmar.

"While welcoming the release, European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso urged that no restrictions be placed on her.


"'She's our country's hero,' said Tin Tin Yu, a 20-year-old university student, standing near the house later Saturday night. 'Our election was a sham. Everyone knows it, but they have guns so what can we do? She's the only one who can make our country a democracy. I strongly believe it.'

"Critics say the Nov. 7 elections were manipulated to give the pro-military party a sweeping victory. Results have been released piecemeal and already have given the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party a majority in both houses of Parliament.

"The new government is unlikely to win the international legitimacy that it craves simply by releasing Suu Kyi because the recent elections were so obviously skewed, according Trevor Wilson, former Australian ambassador to Myanmar.


"Suu Kyi — who was barred from running in the elections — has said she would help probe allegations of voting fraud, according to Nyan Win, who is a spokesman for her party, which was officially disbanded for refusing to register for the polls.

"Such actions pose the sort of challenge the military has reacted to in the past by detaining Suu Kyi.

"Myanmar's last elections in 1990 were won overwhelmingly by her National League for Democracy, but the military refused to hand over power and instead clamped down on opponents.

"Suu Kyi's release gives the junta some ammunition against critics of the election and the government's human rights record, which includes the continued detention of some 2,200 political prisoners and brutal military campaigns against ethnic minorities.

"Despite that, it was hard not to see some hope in her release.

"'There is no formal opposition (in Myanmar) so her release is going to represent an opportunity to re-energize and reorganize this opposition,' said Maung Zarni, an exiled dissident and Myanmar research fellow at the London School of Economics.

"But he also said the release was 'a tactical move by the regime. It is not out of compassion or as an act of adherence to any legal norms.' [emphasis mine]"

It's good that Suu Kyi has been released, but clearly the military junta in Myanmar no longer see her as a threat. Her release didn't come about because of internal nor external pressure-- and it certainly wasn't an act of compassion. It'll be interesting to see if Suu Kyi continues her work, and how Myanmar's junta will respond. After releasing her, it'll be a hard sell to simply arrest her again. This certainly bears watching.

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