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Aung San Suu Kyi Fights To Keep Her House

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Burma's Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is trapped under virtual house arrest, but she is fighting to keep her stately lakeside home from being seized by her estranged US-based brother.

Ironically, though her brother Aung San Oo is demanding his half of the expensive house and sprawling gardens, he might not be able to keep the property because he is not a Burmese citizen, lawyers said.

As a result, the unelected military regime may try to commandeer his half of the house, stripping Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party of home, hearth and headquarters, the lawyers warned. The two-storey house is on leafy University Avenue in Burma's capital, Rangoon.

It is the meeting place for American, British and other diplomats who have tried to help her gain power, despite the military's 10-year blockade against her party's 1990 landslide election victory.

Inside her home, she hosts visitors in sparsely furnished rooms decorated with large, sepia photographs of her family, and banners portraying the yellow peacock that symbolizes her party.

She also frequently appears overlooking the metal spikes atop her front gate. She stands on a platform and smiles broadly while giving speeches of defiance against the regime to small groups of supporters who risk arrest by gathering on the sidewalk in front of her home.

Burma's military junta, meanwhile, is annually condemned by the US State Department and London-based Amnesty International for summary executions, torture, forced labor and other human rights abuses.

The house originally belonged to Suu Kyi's parents.

Suu Kyi's father was the fabled Burmese independence leader, Maj. Gen. Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947. Her mother, Khin Kyi, died in 1988.

Suu Kyi's elder brother, in his late 50s, reportedly makes regular personal and business trips to Burma from his home in the United States.

Their younger brother, Aung San Lin, died in childhood.

Lawyers defending Suu Kyi against her brother's lawsuit appeared in Rangoon District Court on Nov. 27, but the judge adjourned proceedings until next week.

Suu Kyi, who received the 1991 Nobel peace prize, did not appear in court.

Her brother's lawyers earlier posted a subpoena on the gates of the house, after filing the case one month before a statute of limitations deadline.

"According to Burmese Buddhist customary law, the issue of inheritance by the children must be settled within 12 years of the death of both parents," wrote B. K. Sen and Khin Maung Win in a joint analysis of the case.

Sen and Win are executive committee members of the Bangkok-based Burma Lawyers' Council, a self-exiled group allied to anti-government dissident Burmese who favor Suu Kyi and oppose military rule in their Southeast Asian homeland.

"Despite being entitled to half of his parents' inheritance under Burmese Buddhist customary law, Aung San Oo appears to have no right in law to access the property or benefits from it under Burmese property law," they wrote in a published commentary.

"Even though Suu Kyi has not denied his ownership right, Burma's existing Restriction of Immovable Property Act does that on the basis he is now a foreign citizen."

The solution could prove dire for Suu Kyi and others struggling for democracy in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"In such a situation, what Aung San Oo can do is hand his right to the property to charity or the state," the lawyers added. If Suu Kyi does lose half of the house and property, she can offer to buy it back.

"The co-owner, Suu Kyi in this case, has the pre-emptive right to make an offer," Sen and Win wrote.

But if the regime gains ownership over her brother's half, "it is very doubtful that due process of law will prevail," they said.

"One predictable legal fight will be between Suu Kyi and the SPDC," they added, referring to the State Peace and Development Council -- which is the euphemistic title the regime calls itself.

Burma's official newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, has repeatedly published vicious attacks against Suu Kyi during the past decade.

The paper has also condemned her marriage to British scholar Michael Aris, who died in 1999. Their two sons live in Britain.

Referring to Suu Kyi and her elder brother, the paper said in 1996: "There are also people who criticized Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Bogyoke [Aung San], for choosing a white man, or 'kala,' as husband.

"Some praised Aung San Oo for not marrying a white woman, or 'kalama,' making a comparison between the two," the paper claimed.

Some reports suggest that their mother wanted the home to be shared equally between her two children, but it was not immediately clear why Aung San Oo waited 12 years to demand the court hear his claim.

Suu Kyi has suffered various forms of house arrest during the past 11 years.

In the past few months, Suu Kyi twice attempted to meet party activists in other cities but the regime stopped her on a highway leading out of Rangoon, and later prevented her from boarding a train to Mandalay.


richard s. ehrlich

asia correspondent bangkok, thailand
phone (66 2) 286 2434 fax via usa (978) 334 5691

© 2000

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