Aung San Suu Kyi

May 03, 2002

A PACK OF FOREIGN journalists has been allowed to enter Myanmar on rarely granted visas. The phone line to the headquarters of the National League for Democracy - the long suppressed opponents of that country's ruling military junta - has been restored. And the potholes in the road leading to the home of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi have been patched.

For close watchers of the narco-pariah state that used to be known as Burma, these have been just some of the indicators this week of the imminent release of the NLD leader from 19 months of house arrest - a move that some expect could happen as soon as today.

Ms. Suu Kyi's release from imprisonment has been sought by many around the world. The pro-democracy crusader's years of restriction symbolize the even more terrible repression of her more than 40 million countrymen under a series of military dictatorships for the last 40 years.

The daughter of her nation's independence hero, Ms. Suu Kyi was first arrested in 1989 while campaigning in a national election in which the NLD later took 82 percent of the vote - an election that the current regime refused to recognize. She stayed under house arrest until 1995 - her sons had to accept her 1991 Nobel Prize - and was arrested again in 2000 for trying to travel to another city within Myanmar. She has not been seen in public since.

Prodded by a United Nations envoy and by warnings of even stiffer international economic sanctions, her release could be a very hopeful turn in a country where the public wellbeing has been rapidly deteriorating. In many ways, this is North Korea with a twist: An estimated 1 percent of the population is HIV-infected, and the regime makes its money from heroin and methamphetamine sales rather than arms peddling.

But Ms. Suu Kyi's release should not be mistaken for the outbreak of democracy in Myanmar. As of yesterday, there was still concern that her release might not be unconditional. (As one activist put it, all that might be changing is the size of her cage.) Nor was there indication that the ruling generals might release some of the estimated 1,300 other political prisoners in Myanmar's jails.

Reports from Myanmar do speculate that the junta may allow Ms. Suu Kyi to help it administer the country's international aid for health and education. Though that may turn out to be a positive step toward allowing her a legitimate government role, it also could be a cynical ploy to encourage the resumption of such aid, which has been largely cut off.

Under almost any scenario, Myanmar's generals still have a long way to go - toward ending their drug trade, their brutalization of the country's ethnic minorities and their political suppression of the NLD. The world should keep the pressure on them.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.