Aung San Suu Kyi challenges Burma junta to begin journey towards reform

Aung San Suu Kyi today reached out to the generals who jailed her, saying she wants direct talks with the military's leaders in the interests of "national reconciliation".

Aung San Suu Kyi has emerged from seven years' house arrest, and incarceration at the junta's hands for 15 of the past 21 years, insisting she bears no grudge against her country's military regime. She has urged reconciliation and unity for Burma.

She has hinted, too, that she may be willing to soften her stance in favour of international sanctions against Burma's military junta, but insisted that true progress could not be made until all of the country's 2,100 political prisoners were freed.

Despite her historic release at the weekend, and the euphoria that has enveloped Burma in its aftermath, concerns remain that this could be a false dawn for the country and not a "Mandela moment" that signals the start of genuine political reform.

Today, speaking publicly for the first time since her release on Saturday, Aung San Suu Kyi told supporters she needed their support to transform the country. "I think we all have to work together. I wish to work in unison with the people of Burma," she said. She stressed she alone could not lead the country to democracy after 50 years of military rule.

"I don't believe in one person's influence and authority to move a country forward," she said. "One person alone cannot do something as important as bringing democracy to a country."

More than 10,000 supporters, many wearing T-shirts bearing Aung San Suu Kyi's image or with photographs of her pinned to their clothes, rallied outside the headquarters of her now banned political party, the National League for Democracy, cramming Shwegondine Road in central Rangoon to listen to her speak.

Many held up signs saying "We love Suu". In response she lifted a handwritten sign saying "I love the public, too".

Aung San Suu Kyi said she had a message for the regime's senior general, Than Shwe: "Let's speak to each other directly." She added: "I am for national reconciliation. I am for dialogue." The pair last met in secret talks in 2002 at the encouragement of the United Nations, just months before the junta arrested her again.

There has been no word from Burma's jungle capital, Nay Pi Daw, on whether the regime's leaders wish to meet her, and there are doubts over the junta's commitment to reform.

Dr Maung Zarni, a Burma research fellow at the London School of Economics, said the junta had released political prisoners before, usually to win favour internationally, but had rearrested them when it felt the need to reassert control. "We should not fool ourselves to think that her release signals the desire on the part of the regime towards democratisation, dialogue and reconciliation," Zarni said.

"Her release is simply a tactical move. The regime is still holding over 2,100 prisoners of conscience … many serving ridiculously lengthy prison sentences. They must all be freed if we are to be convinced of the regime's desire towards reconciliation."

Burma's generals have jailed Aung San Suu Kyi three times in the past two decades, either arbitrarily or on dubious charges, and Zarni said they could be moved to do so again if they felt her near-universal popularity was weakening their grip on power.

But asked if she feared being imprisoned again, Aung San Suu Kyi was deliberately coy. "I do not think I am threatening, do you?" the 65-year-old grandmother said.

"Popularity is something that comes and goes. I don't think anybody should feel threatened by it. But I know that there's always the possibility that I might be rearrested. It's not something that I particularly wish for, because if you're placed under arrest, you can't work as much as you can when you're not under arrest."

Others cautiously believe the junta's move could mark the beginning of genuine reform. The Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), which counts Burma as a member but which the west has accused of not doing enough to push for change there, welcomed the release. "I'm very, very relieved and hope that this will contribute to true national reconciliation," said the secretary-general, Surin Pitsuwan.

Aung San Suu Kyi also met a corps of diplomats today, including representatives from Britain, the European Union and Asean countries.

Later, during a wide-ranging press conference, Aung San Suu Kyi said that while during her years of imprisonment she "felt free within myself", she would not rest until all of Burma's political prisoners were released unconditionally. "If my people are not free, how can you say I am free?" she said. "We are none of us free."

Aung San Suu Kyi has been a strong supporter of trade sanctions, which have isolated Burma for more than a decade, but appeared to indicate a willingness to reconsider. "This is a time for Burma when we need help," she said. "We need everybody to help in this venture. Western nations, eastern nations, all nations."

Her previous spells of liberty have come with conditions attached by the military, limiting her movements and with whom she could meet, but the military had not imposed any restrictions on her this time, she said.

Her first formal act is likely to be a response to last weekend's elections, which were marred by reports of voter intimidation, bribery and stuffed ballot boxes. The election was won overwhelmingly by the junta's party. Aung San Suu Kyi was banned from participating and her party urged a boycott, resulting in a poor voter turnout. An NLD committee is set to investigate all complaints independently. "From what I have heard there are many, many questions about the fairness of the election and there are many, many allegations of vote rigging and so on," she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi said today she was enjoying her freedom, particularly the chance to meet and talk to people. "I have been listening to the radio for six years," she said. "I think I'd like to listen to some real human voices."

She said she had not had a chance to see very much of the outside world, "but I have noticed that a lot of people have mobile phones".

She used a mobile for the first time on Sunday to call her son Kim, who is in Bangkok, and whom she hasn't seen for nearly a decade. She has never met her grandchildren.

Aung San Suu Kyi spent her first afternoon of freedom at Rangoon's Shwedagon pagoda, then attended the funeral of an NLD colleague.

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First, through a concerted, non-violent protest by all citizens of the country at home and international fora. If it is responded by repression and harsher measures, then, through an armed revolution. Such moves are sure to be supported by all democratic and peace loving countries of the world. (modest)

(The question for above answer was asked by Min Myo Naing using another name in June of 2006.)


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An exiled journalist from Burma, I have taken refuge in the United States with my family thanks to CPJ in New York, UNHCR (Cambodia) and the States Department. I was detained for one and a half year in 1969 for burning effigy of the late dictator Ne Win in the Rangoon University campus during SEA Games Strike. I was also actively participated in 8888 nationwide uprising by taking charge in publishing The Guardian Daily as independent newspaper for 22 days before I resigned from the newspaper as Assistant Editor in September,1988. Fortunately, I was escaped from arresting by the military regime. In 1990, I left for Bangkok where I had an assignment to translate the "Outrage: Burma's Struggle for Democracy". The book was originally written by Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist. I fled my country in December 2005 after my life was threatened by the military intelligence service for involving in political movements and had given assistance to foreign journalists who came to Burma. I am still active with the movement for restoring democracy in Burma.