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Burma's Suu Kyi Under Arrest For 13 Years

Burma's Suu Kyi Under Arrest For 13 Years

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The world's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, completes 13 years under house arrest on Friday (October 24), refusing to leave Burma for freedom in self-exile because she fears the military regime would block her future return.

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A 63-year-old widow, Suu Kyi ("Soo Chee") remains in her mildewing, two-story villa which offers a spacious garden nestling along a lake in Burma's largest city, Rangoon, also known as Yangon.

Her gated home suffers faltering electricity, while she depends on a drip-feed of contact with the outside world.

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"On Friday, October 24th, Aung San Suu Kyi will have spent a total of 13 years in detention," announced Britain's Burma Campaign, an activist group which called on foreign leaders, and the public, to demand she be freed along with "all political prisoners" in Burma.

In Washington DC, the U.S. Campaign for Burma said it called for a demonstration on Friday (October 24) at 5 pm at the Chinese Embassy on 2300 Connecticut Ave NW, because China is the main supporter of Burma's regime and blocks U.N. action to restore democracy.

In foreign countries, her depressed supporters can do little in public except to wear Suu Kyi face masks during protests to mark the day, while publishing news about Burma's plight via magazines, Web sites, radio broadcasts and other international media.

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Suu Kyi's supporters try to fend off the regime's finger-pointing that she and her activists are "puppets" and "axe-handles" of the U.S., Britain and other countries, because Suu Kyi and some of her activists have received foreign government and non-governmental cash and assistance.

Among Burma's new generation meanwhile, some have voiced frustration with her non-violent stance.

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The most distraught have called for a U.S. military invasion, or stepped-up armed struggle, to overthrow the entrenched junta in Burma, which the regime prefers be called Myanmar.

Burma is described as an Orwellian society, with ubiquitous slogans on huge billboards throughout the country exhorting people to unite and cherish the leadership of a supposedly altruistic military regime.

Most forms of communication -- including telephone, radio, TV, internet and other media -- is heavily censored or sinisterly monitored.

In a propaganda twist, the junta recently pasted the Orwellian label back onto Suu Kyi's supporters and also onto minority ethnic guerrillas who have fought for more than 50 years for autonomous or independent enclaves -- separatist fights which Suu Kyi opposes.

"In his essay 'Politics and the English Language,' well-known writer George Orwell of the early 20th century states many terms that have become meaningless after being often misused by politicians," the government-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Oct. 9, in a lengthy critique headlined: "Saboteurs in Disguise of Democracy Activists."

The paper warned: "Such terms as 'freedom', 'democracy' and 'justice' are used so often in a dishonest way, that they have lost their original meaning.

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"Many anti-government groups in Myanmar often, and variously, use those words. Some of those groups are subversive elements to the core."

The report blamed minority ethnic Karen, the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, and others for a string of bomb attacks during recent weeks.

"These men too, are just powers taking positions under the command of their Western masters."

Burma's vast natural resources and strategic location have long been coveted by outsiders, attracting Kublai Khan's Mongol invaders in the 13th century.

British colonialists repeatedly attacked the country during the 1800s.

London grudgingly granted Burma independence in 1948, after a Japanese invasion and occupation during World War II, and the assassination of Suu Kyi's father Gen. Aung San in 1947.

Today, the would-be wealthy country is one of the world's poorest, devastated by voracious military dictators since 1962 and, more recently, ever-tightening international economic sanctions led by the U.S.

In a controversial move, Suu Kyi has added to the country's poverty by demanding international tourists boycott Burma until democracy is achieved, sparking an ongoing debate over whether the military, or impoverished citizens, would profit more from foreign investment and tourism.

Suu Kyi has been freed several times since her first arrest in 1989, but the regime repeatedly sent her home after she roused thousands of supporters by speaking in public.

When Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a nationwide election in 1990, the regime invalidated the results.

Her current stint under house arrest, since 2003, was extended in mid-2008 with a possible release date in November 2009.

A 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Suu Kyi has expressed concern that the military prefers not to negotiate, and instead rely on a brutal strategy of killing pro-democracy demonstrators, torture, unfair imprisonment and other abuses.

The worst bloodshed occurred during a 1988 insurrection which left an estimated 3,000 pro-democracy demonstrators dead. Suu Kyi is free to leave Burma and join her two adult sons in Britain, but she has refused to budge, defying her detractors who say she is withering into a paralyzed icon which the junta expects to outlive.


***** Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is

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