Sunday, May 27, 2007
THE LADY, IN A CAGE OF SILENCE
|Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, here seen during an interview at her home in Rangoon, Saturday, May 25, 1996.|
Photo: AP/Richard Vogel
n advance of the 4th anniversary of her last taste of freedom, Burma's military dictators on Friday served the nation's democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, with another one year detention order. The previous diktat which had maintained her status as a political prisoner -- under which she has lived for most of the 17 years since returning to her country -- had been due to expire today.
Prior to the news of the renewed detention, National League for Democracy members had gathered in Rangoon earlier on Friday to pray for her release. They were attacked and beaten by a group of thugs said to be comprised of army personnel, junta-sponsored militia and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA is a junta-organised civilian group long used to intimidate and oppose NLD activities).
Outside Burma, democratic governments around the world had been urging the Burmese authorities that the time had come to release the NLD leader. Once again, the United States has long taken the strongest stance -- pushing hard (John Bolton, again) for the Burma issue to be put on the United Nations Security Council agenda, strengthening sanctions against the regime, and issuing the toughest statements both before and after the detention order announcement. First Lady Laura Bush also launched a public appeal for Daw Suu's freedom, alongside Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein last week. Similar calls came from the EU, many of its members, and other states.
But on Friday afternoon, the dictators gave their expected reply.
The first sign of the extension came when neighbors saw a silver-gray Toyota with tinted windows enter Suu Kyi's compound at 3:55 p.m. They were assumed to be government officials because she is allowed no visitors. They stayed for about 10 minutes.In fact, the first signs of the regime's intransigence could be seen over the previous several weeks, during which time at least 60 NLD activists were taken into custody. There are already at least 1,200 political prisoners in Burma.
One official confirmed that the car carried officials who presented Suu Kyi with a new detention order. The detention order takes effect when it is read to the person concerned.
Today also marks another important date on the Burmese calendar. It was on May 27, 1990 that (again, while she was under government detention) Suu Kyi's NLD won more than 80% of parliamentary seats in the only democratic elections held in the country in almost half a century. That parliament has never been allowed to convene. The regime later contended that a new constitution must be drafted first, a sham process which has gone on for the past 17 years (the assembly meets a few days a year).
So earlier today, hundreds of NLD members, democracy supporters and former student activists of the "88 Generation" gathered at party headquarters to commemorate their 17 year-old election victory, knowing that they would be without their charismatic leader for another year. The "88 Generation Students" originate from the period just prior to Suu Kyi's return to Burma, when a popular democratic uprising against the previous dictator (General Ne Win) resulted in a vicious and violent crackdown by the army.
Inspired by the peaceful "people power" revolution against Ferdinand Marcos just two years earlier in 1986, citizens stood behind the moral leadership of the university students in an idealistic bid to restore democratic rule. On August 8 (8/8/88), the army replied by not following the example of the Philippine military -- which had refused to shoot its own citizens -- and launched a massacre which slaughtered at least 3,000 (most conservative estimate) unarmed civilians in the streets of Rangoon. Burmese military leaders had set a new standard of depravity for maintaining Asian dictatorships, and one which would nearly be matched less than a year later in Beijing.
In their activities today, the democracy movement will have expected the opposition they got from regime-backed thugs. Latest information from Rangoon indicates that USDA gangs interfered with the meeting at NLD headquarters (which is nearby Suu Kyi's home), but this time withheld their violence due to the presence of diplomats from the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Australia. The troublemakers apparently contented themselves with trying to block people's access to the venue, and verbal harrassment. Some news reports also claimed that around 100 soldiers were stationed at the site, while others cited the presence of 50 plainclothes police who took photos and videos of the attendees but did not interfere -- which is evidently the job of the USDA.
Suu Kyi's supporters had plans to make a procession to the country's pre-eminent religious shrine, Shwedagon Pagoda, to pray for her freedom after the conclusion of the commemoration event at party headquarters. Here again, they were expecting thuggish behaviour from junta gangs.
One activist, Htay Kywt, told AFP that Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters would head to a Yangon temple on Sunday afternoon to pray for their leader's release, after a ceremony marking the election victory.And once again, their expectations have been met. Witnesses have reported a confrontation on the way to Shwedagon, but I've found no final reports on how things have turned out.
"We will go to Shwedagon pagoda to pray for Daw Suu's (Aung San Suu Kyi's) freedom," Htay Kywt said.
"We will pass through any barrier," he added.
This incredible stubborn streak, and refusal to budge one millimeter from idiotic policies, is of course not unknown among tyrannies which are hated by their people. In a weekend editorial, the Bangkok Post summed up the situation well.
Prolonging Suu Kyi's detention is selfish, unfair and illogical. Surely, the military rulers must realise that by continually courting international condemnation and inflaming public opinion, they are taking a greater risk than that entailed in freeing this courageous lady. Such repressive behaviour has already led to the country being ostracised by much of the world, condemned to economic sanctions by the United States, branded as a serial human rights violator, castigated over its escalating drug trade and regarded as Asean's biggest embarrassment.And let's not forget the ongoing wars the regime conducts against its own ethnic minorities, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees taking shelter in Thailand, and more coming all the time. After a decade since being admitted into the Association of South East Asian Nations, Burma remains ASEAN's biggest embarrassment. Perhaps the second biggest embarrassment is ASEAN's policy of "constructive engagement" which has benefitted exactly nobody, apart from the xenophobic and superstitious idiots who rule Burma with an iron fist.
The time has come for ASEAN to change their absolutely failed policy of appeasement. A hint of some backbone was seen in the latest rotation of chairmanship of the Association, when the chair was denied to Burma (it was "their turn") because many other governments had announced they would not be meeting with ASEAN under a Burmese presidency. Burma is a stain on ASEAN, and it's now time to either expel them or suspend their membership until they are at least willing to abide by minimum standards of decency. And how fitting it is, that exactly this prescription is now being advocated by a Malaysian opposition leader, a longtime supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi and himself no stranger to political repression.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations' policy of "constructive engagement" with Myanmar has failed as the military-ruled nation has shown little progress in its human rights record a decade after joining the bloc, said Lim Kit Siang, who heads the Democratic Action Party.The time has come for such an action. Indeed most freedom lovers would say it's long past due. Four years ago might have been an opportune point to conclude that the idiot thugs in uniform ruling Burma had no intentions at all toward democratic reforms. Another anniversary for you now, which falls this Wednesday, May 30.
"Myanmar's membership in ASEAN must be seriously reviewed as the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi marks the abysmal failure of the 10-year ASEAN experiment to influence the Myanmar military junta to be a responsible member of the international community," he said in a statement.
"ASEAN nations must seriously consider whether they should continue to allow Myanmar to be a millstone around the neck of ASEAN, bringing disrepute to the regional organization, or whether they should face up seriously to the option to suspend or expel Myanmar from ASEAN."
That was the day Suu Kyi last knew freedom, in 2003. She had been released from a long period of detention a few weeks earlier on May 6. She was given the green light to engage in NLD political activities, and those few weeks were taken up by a series of trips by her and other NLD officials to open regional party offices. They faced harrassment at many points from USDA gangs attempting to disrupt, under military directions, their legitimate activities.
Suu Kyi was welcomed by ecstatic crowds everywhere the convoy went, but on May 30, as they made their way to Depayin, they were ambushed by large gangs at a village named Kyi. The troublemakers even employed fake Buddhist monks in order to halt the convoy, after which hundreds of USDA gang members and other participants (possibly having been paid money, but certainly provided with ample free booze to get them in the mood) sprang out of the darkness and attacked with iron bars and sharp weapons. Many were viciously killed, including women who were murdered by having their heads bashed against the pavement. The event has come to be known as the Depayin massacre.
Aung San Suu Kyi was very lucky to have escaped with her life, when the driver of the car in which she rode barely managed to speed through a second ambush set up to capture them. The above link contains several witness testimonies to the events that day, well-organised by regional military commanders. Some photos of the harrassment encountered in the days immediately prior to the slaughter may be seen here. The Lady (as the Burmese affectionately call her) was re-arrested the following morning while many of her supporters were scattered through the countryside, fleeing for their lives with the help of local people. Witnesses state that the scene of the massacre was cleaned up that same morning by soldiers wielding brooms, and assisted by water tanker trucks brought in to help remove the blood and gore that had covered the roadway.
That might have been the proper time for ASEAN to reconsider Burma's shameful membership in their organisation, but they did nothing apart from expressing "deep concern" -- the same type of castrated posturing we typically get from the UN in such situations. But enough is enough, and better late than never. Simply because this evil regime is, as so many evil regimes are these days, propped up and protected for its own greedy purpose by the "People's" Republic of China (Zimbabwe's Mugabe and Sudan's Bashir for other examples), does not mean that civilised governments and international organisations like ASEAN need to follow suit.
Suspend Burma from ASEAN immediately, with the understanding that expulsion will follow shortly unless tangible progress is quickly made toward representative government and respect for human rights.
NB: I will not refer to this country as "Myanmar" - a name change unilaterally made by the dictators against the will of its citizens. They also changed the capital city's name from Rangoon to "Yangon" and have recently moved the "capital" designation to a new site in a malarial swamp in central Burma, to be known as "Naypyidaw." Apparently top thug Gen. Than Shwe made that decision on advice of his astrologer, and even the accomodating Chinese are not happy about it. Most likely not out of concern for Burma's long suffering citizens who endure the mercurial "policies" of the regime, but because their diplomats would rather not be stationed in the middle of a jungle.
NB II: The photograph I chose for this article was taken of Suu Kyi eleven years ago. She will turn 62 years old in a couple of weeks, on June 19. She is 50 years of age in that photo, an amazing lady.
NB III: For those less familiar with Burma, a note on her name. Daw is an honourific title for women. Aung San was the name of her father, who was also the father of Burmese independence (and ironically, father of the Burmese Army), and was assassinated early in his life. Thus it is perfectly alright to refer to her simply as Suu Kyi (ph: "soo chi") or affectionately as her people do, as Daw Suu.