Aung San Suu Kyi's Trial Resumes In Myanmar

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The Democracy leader is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest. The trial is a window into the intractability of the Myanmar government. Even the U.N. Secretary General could not convince the military junta to let him meet with Aung San Suu Kyi last week.


In Myanmar, the trial of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi resumed today. She's charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an American who swam to her lakeside home and stayed for a couple of days. The trial itself is a window into the toughness of the Myanmar government. Not even the U.N. secretary general could convince the military to let him meet with the Noble laureate last week. NPR's Southeast Asia correspondent Michael Sullivan is going to talk with us about this now.

Hi, Michael.


INSKEEP: You surprised that the Myanmar government wouldn't even let the U.N. secretary general in to see Aung San Suu Kyi?

SULLIVAN: I wasn't surprised at all. And in fact I was more surprised by the fact that the secretary general went in the first place. I mean, he had to know that he didn't have much of a chance of making any progress on persuading the generals to let Aung San Suu Kyi go or to let the 2,000 or so political prisoners go.

And he had to know his own credibility was on the line to a certain extent if he failed. And of course he did seem to come away empty-handed. I mean, he wasn't even allowed to see Aung San Suu Kyi even briefly. So I think he's lost credibility.

But a lot of people have been watching this thing back and forth between the U.N. and the generals for decades now. They weren't too surprised either. They've seen lots of visits by U.N. special envoys over the years who've come and gone with nothing to show for it.

INSKEEP: Well, if the U.N. doesn't have much influence, who does?

SULLIVAN: I don't think there's any country with a dominant influence. But I do think there are several countries like China that wield some influence. China, India and to a lesser extent Thailand all have very close trade links with Myanmar.

China takes a lot of natural resources out of the ground and just about everywhere else in my region. And China has invested heavily in the country. And both China and India supply Myanmar with military hardware and the like.

All these countries have some influence. But at the same time they're very eager to maintain those trade relationships, which makes it less likely they'll put pressure on the regime to soften its stance toward the opposition. And even if they do apply pressure, Steve, it's not clear how the generals would respond.

There's some evidence they're now building a series of underground tunnels and bunkers outside their new jungle capital with help from the North Koreans, because they fear some sort of outside intervention by the West. So there's a couple of partners in paranoia there.

INSKEEP: Well, if somebody was going to influence that government from the outside they'd have to offer them or threaten the removal of something that they actually want. So what do the military rulers want from the outside world, if anything?

SULLIVAN: I don't think they want anything from the outside world, Steve. I think what they want is inside. They want stability, stability and more stability. They want to ensure that the country remains stable, that it doesn't fragment. And they think - I think they think that they're the only ones who can achieve this. They look at people like Aung San Suu Kyi as a threat, and that's why they're do all they can to ensure that she stays in detention one way or another until after the general election.

They're also worried, though - even more worried, maybe - by all these armed rebellions they have to contend with. They have signed these cease fire agreements with more than a dozen ethnic groups fighting the military's rule. But there are several large well-armed groups still out there that the military needs to do a deal with before this general election next year. And I think the military is worried about these groups too.

INSKEEP: So does this ongoing trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, which resumed today, seem like anything more than a show trial?

SULLIVAN: No. Honestly it doesn't. I mean, they've been stringing this thing out for reasons that aren't entirely clear. It started almost two months ago. It had been expected to be swift, but there have been several delays as the prosecution has sought to limit the number of defense witnesses. At first they just wanted to allow one, even though the prosecution was allowed some two dozen.

But no one really believes the outcome is in doubt. They need Aung San Suu Kyi out of the picture politically because of these upcoming elections. They can't afford to have her free. She's simply too popular. She would wield a great deal of influence and would presumably use that influence to urge people to vote against the regime and its candidates. And they can't allow that.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michael Sullivan, thanks very much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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