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Aung San Suu Kyi Victory Over The Burmese Junta

Aung San Suu Kyi Secures A Victory Over The Burmese Junta

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Muted in her gloomy, lakeside mansion in Burma by a decade of depressing house arrest, the world's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, scored a psychological victory when she helped force the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to ditch her country's military regime.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, had been anxiously squelching international condemnation of its human rights violations -- extrajudicial executions, torture and forced labor -- while hoping to be the next host of ASEAN, a mostly profit-minded group which wants good relations with the United States, Europe and other trading partners.

ASEAN includes Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam, and rotates its chairmanship.

Several of these countries enjoy lucrative investments in Burma, while shrugging off U.S.-led demands to boycott the country in an effort to pressure its unelected military leaders to step down.

Mrs. Suu Kyi's checkmate against Burma, however, was revealed on Tuesday (July 26) when ASEAN issued a concluding, 7,600-word "joint communique" at its 38th ministerial meeting in Vientiane, Laos, which said:

"We have been informed by our colleague, Foreign Minister U Nyan Win of Myanmar, that the government of Myanmar had decided to relinquish its turn to be the Chair of ASEAN in 2006 because it would want to focus its attention on the ongoing national reconciliation and democratization process."

The face-saving communique said, "We also express our sincere appreciation to the government of Myanmar for not allowing its national preoccupation to affect ASEAN's solidarity and cohesiveness."

Burma's humiliation at not being able to host the next showcase gathering of its neighbors was partially cloaked by the communique's language, which did not name Mrs. Suu Kyi.

Behind the scenes, diplomats and analysts said ASEAN did not want to be tainted by Burma's pariah status and be spurned by Washington, the European Union and other governments because that would make it difficult for ASEAN to clinch deals with the international community.

Burmese officials will now go home and push compliant supporters into writing a new constitution, with loopholes granting immunity to the military against prosecution, according to Burmese dissidents.

When Burma convinces ASEAN it will not embarrass the organization, the country will be allowed to host the next conference.

But Mrs. Suu Kyi and her limping National League for Democracy (NLD) party have refused to participate in the regime's "national reconciliation and democratization process" because the new constitution will also allow the military to continue dominating Burma, which is mainland Southeast Asia's biggest country.

The election "would surely give a majority of seats to the government and its affiliated parties," Thailand's Nation newspaper noted in a Wednesday (July 27) editorial examining ASEAN's conundrum.

The regime insists Mrs. Suu Kyi incites violence when she is allowed onto the streets, because her supporters and opponents indulge in bloody skirmishes.

The government also denounces her as a patsy being sinisterly used by Washington and other foreign powers to infiltrate Burma and seize its vast natural resources and strategic location.

"Some big powers are putting pressures on the Tatmadaw [military] government with the intention of installation of a puppet government," the regime's New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on July 5.

"She is a power maniac," it said, denouncing Mrs. Suu Kyi.

But the slender 60-year-old woman, confined under house arrest, ironically helped make Burma's officials go home from the ASEAN meeting unable to strut a public stage.

In January, Mrs. Suu Kyi also scored a victory when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice castigated Burma as an "outpost of tyranny" alongside North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Cuba.

Dr. Rice declined to attend this week's ASEAN meeting of foreign ministers, and sent an underling, in a move widely seen in Southeast Asia as a "snub".

Mrs. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, led her NLD party to a landslide victory in a nationwide 1990 election, which the military regime denounced and ignored.


Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is

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