Suu Kyi Galvanizes Myanmar's Democracy Movement
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Myanmar's celebrated pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been picking up where she left off. Since being released from years of house arrest on the Saturday, she's called for direct talks with her country's military rulers. She's also spoken of working to lift Western sanctions against Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, her return to politics is fraught with danger.
ANTHONY KUHN: Aung San Suu Kyi spent the weekend talking to opposition party leaders, diplomats, journalists and large crowds of boisterous supporters. She told reporters she wanted to speak directly with Junta leader General Than Shwe. She also acknowledged that until Saturday, she was merely the most famous of more than 2,000 political prisoners still in captivity in Myanmar.
If my people are not free, she said, how can you say I am free?
Myanmar's political landscape has shifted during her seven years in isolation. Her own party, the National League for Democracy, has been banned for boycotting recent elections. Opposition politicians, including some NLD defectors, have been elected to parliament.
Mr. AUNG ZAW (Editor, Irrawaddy): She and Anna Lee(ph) may have a new political strategy to organize in a different form, a different way.
KUHN: Aung Zaw is the editor of the Irrawaddy, a Myanmar news magazine based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He says that to rebuild a democratic opposition from the grassroots will require Suu Kyi to travel and reconnect with people. Aung Zaw is worried about a repeat of past violence against her by government-backed thugs. But Suu Kyi says she will never accept restrictions on her activities or give much thought to her personal safety.
Mr. ZAW: That's one of the discussions that Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her top leaders had after her release, I gather. So, I think there could be another vicious cycle of Suu Kyi being re-arrested, Suu Kyi being attacked and some kind of systematic (unintelligible).
KUHN: David Matheson is a Thailand-based Myanmar analyst with the group Human Rights Watch. He says Suu Kyi must also try to connect with the ethnic minority groups waging an armed resistance against the Myanmar's military. He notes that she has tried before, but that contact with these groups is prescribed by Myanmar's law.
Mr. DAVID MATHESON (Burma Analyst, Human Rights Watch): She wanted to reach out and speak to the ethnic nationality organizations (unintelligible) defense of what they wanted and grounds of cooperation. Of course, the military thought that was just a step too far. And so I think she's got to be very careful how she broaches the issue.
KUHN: Suu Kyi also said that if Myanmar's people wanted it, she would consider working to lift foreign sanctions against her country. Matheson says the sanctions should at least be reexamined.
Mr. MATHESON: She did send two letters to Senior General Than Shwe last year saying that she wanted to discuss the issue with the ruling military government. And I think that it's well past due that there is a serious discussion about the efficacy of Western sanctions on the country. If they need to be modified or retargeted and the ones that aren't effective need to be repealed, then so be it.
KUHN: On a personal note, Suu Kyi said she was eager to hear live human voices again after years with no company other than her radio.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Bangkok.
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