Tag Archive for 'Aung San Suu Kyi'

Aung San Suu Kyi, a true Gandhian

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

The comparison is natural, not forced. As I see it, there are at least six respects in which Suu Kyi’s career parallels that of the Mahatma: 1. a leavening of politics with morality, which comes in both cases from a religious faith, which is devout without being dogmatic; 2. a commitment to non-violence in word and in deed; 3. a willingness to reach out to one’s rivals and opponents; 4. an openness to ideas and innovations from other cultures; 5. an utter fearlessness, with death holding no dangers for them; 6. great personal charm, a feature of which is a sense of humour.

However, while Aung San Suu Kyi can certainly be compared to Gandhi, she cannot (as she perhaps would be the first to acknowledge) be equated to him. Gandhi came first, crafting the techniques of non-violent resistance of which Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi have been such outstanding exemplars. Besides, Gandhi’s range of interests (and obsessions) was far greater.

India is much larger than Burma, and much more diverse in linguistic and religious terms. Gandhi lived and died for Hindu-Muslim harmony, but we know little of how Suu Kyi intends to stem Budddhist chauvinism in Myanmar by giving greater respect to Muslims, tribals and other minorities. India is a far more hierarchical society than Myanmar; so can be no real parallel in Suu Kyi’s life to Gandhi’s lifelong struggle against untouchability. And Gandhi was also a precocious environmentalist.

That said, Suu Kyi is far closer to Gandhi, and a much better Gandhian, than any Indian now living. More

A girl named Suu

Malavika Karlekar remembers ‘The Lady’ she knew. In Outlook:

When a childhood friend is the face of a movement for democracy in a country ruled by a junta, time can only partially dim, not ever erase, one’s memories of her. Among other things, I remember Aung San Suu Kyi’s ready wit. Some years ago, I chanced upon a picture postcard from her marked “Oxford, 1979”. “Doesn’t the gargoyle on the New College bell tower look like Mr X?” she’d asked, referring to an Economics don, her tutor who’d been quite taken by her Oriental charm. I could almost hear her giggle; she saw humour in things we found quotidian. The quality surely emboldened her in the dark years.

As schoolgirls at Delhi’s Convent of Jesus and Mary in the last years of the Nehruvian era, we were ingenues, sheltered from the real world. Suu’s mother, the gracious Daw Khin Kyi (Madame Aung San), Burma’s ambassador to India at the time, would brook no indiscipline. Sloppiness or slouching was out. For habitual loungers to whom divans with bolsters signified ultimate bliss, Suu’s upright posture was a constant reminder of how young ladies should conduct themselves. Of course, the strict regimen of a convent with its insistence on well-starched divided skirts (what if ordinary skirts billowed in the wind?) just that one inch above the knees, Angelus at noon and learning by rote only reinforced familial values of discipline and order. More:

Suu Kyi party’s landslide win in Burma election

AP report:

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party claimed today she has won a seat in Burma’s parliament after a landmark election, setting the stage for the pro-democracy leader to hold public office for the first time.

The victory, if confirmed, marks a major milestone in the south-east Asian nation, where the military has ruled almost exclusively for half a century and where the government is now seeking legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions.

Today’s by-election was called to fill just 45 vacant seats in Burma’s 664-seat national parliament and will not change the balance of power in a new government that is nominally civilian but still heavily controlled by retired generals.

Ms Suu Kyi and other opposition candidates would have almost no say even if they win all the seats they are contesting. But her candidacy has resurrected hope among Burma’s downtrodden masses, who have grown up for generations under strict military rule. If Ms Suu Kyi takes office as expected, it would symbolise a giant leap towards national reconciliation.

Prashant Jha in The Hindu:

Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) are set to sweep the historic by-elections held in Myanmar on Sunday for 45 parliamentary seats.

After a day of peaceful voting, interspersed with some allegations of irregularities, the NLD said Ms. Suu Kyi won her seat of Kawhmu on the city outskirts. While the official results are not expected for a few days, the party, based on reports sent in by its representatives from counting centres in different townships, has claimed a landslide win.

Hannah Beech in Time:

On April 1, Burmese went to the voting booths for just the third time in more than half a century. At stake were fewer than 50 parliamentary seats being contested out of 664 total. But this small by-election was the first time that the National League for Democracy (NLD), the country’s beloved opposition force, was participating in the political process since 1990 polls, which the party won by a landslide only to have the military regime ignore the people’s will. With reforms blossoming across the country after a hybrid civilian-military government took office last year, ordinary Burmese were reveling in the chance to vote for the party led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.


Towards a Burmese spring

Larry Jagan in Himal Southasian:

Change is in the air in Burma, according to many in Rangoon. Though how long until the winds shift remains an open question. ‘There’s definitely a Burmese Spring here,’ said a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), on condition of anonymity. ‘But whether it’s only an illusion, a false dawn as we have had many times before, only time will tell.’ Nonetheless, many in the pro-democracy movement within Burma are optimistic, believing that the new president, Thein Sein, is serious about economic and political change. Critically, this is a process that seems to include Suu Kyi herself, though for the moment it is very unclear what role she may play.

Recent months have seen the continual unveiling of signs that the country’s new quasi-civilian government is trying to pursue a genuine transition to democracy of some sort. The release of more than 200 political prisoners, including the renowned comedian Zarganar, was one of the most recent, and most significant, signals that the new government is serious about political reform. According to a senior government minister on condition of anonymity, preparations are underway for the release of at least 200 more political detainees as well.

Taken together, the movements made in the year since the new government was formed strike many as significant – though with caveats. ‘There is enough to make us cautiously optimistic, with the stress on optimistic,’ Steve Marshall, the head of the International Labour Organisation in Rangoon, told this writer recently. Almost the exact same tone has been struck by Kurt Campbell, the US State Department official in charge of the region. ‘I think it would be fair to say that winds of change are clearly blowing through Burma,’ he said in Bangkok in October. ‘The extent of it is still unclear, but everyone who’s gone there recognises that there are changes.’ More:

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to run in Burma elections

In The Independent:

Myanmar’s main opposition party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi decided today to rejoin politics and register for future elections, signaling its confidence in recent reforms by the military-aligned government.

The National League for Democracy party “has unanimously decided to reregister as a political party … and will run in the elections,” it said in a statement issued at the end of a meeting of senior members from across the country.

Some joyous members broke into a dance as the announcement was made.

“What we are doing now involves a lot of risk but it is time to take the risk because in politics there is no 100 percent assurance of success,” Suu Kyi told them. More:

From prisoner to future president?

Pariah regime in China’s shadow

In Wall Street Journal, Patrick Barta gets a rare interview with Myanmar’s information and culture minister who speaks of his country’s expanded reforms and ongoing sanctions.

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar—Myanmar’s government, in the first extended interview with a major Western news organization in years, called for the U.S. to recognize its recent string of reforms and abandon economic sanctions that is says are hurting its ability to open up further.

The interview, conducted by the country’s information and culture minister flanked by a phalanx of advisers and officials, comes as U.S. President Barack Obama and Asian leaders head to Indonesia for a summit at which Myanmar is seeking to boost its international reputation after decades of tough military rule.

Myanmar has embarked on an “irreversible” reform process, said the minister, U Kyaw Hsan, speaking for the government. He blamed U.S. sanctions for delaying the country’s development and said they made Myanmar more reliant on Chinese companies. “When we are striving for development, we cannot be choosers—we have accepted what is best for the country,” he said. more

A secret interview with The Lady

One year ago, the world’s best-known democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Burma, where she had spent 15 of the last 21 years. As she starts making trips outside Rangoon and meeting government officials, Ed Caesar secretly meets with her, and asks if this brutal regime has really taken steps on the road to freedom. From Dazed Digital.

Freedom means something different to Aung San Suu Kyi than it might to you or me. Imagine you had been placed under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years – would you consider yourself free? How about if, since being released in November last year, you had been placed under constant surveillance, and had your travel restricted by the ruling military government – the same government you had watched plunder your country’s natural resources for political gain, imprison political enemies, and ethnically cleanse troublesome minorities while you were powerless to influence events? How about if your English husband had died without you by his side because he was refused a visa, and you knew that if you left the country to be with him you might never have been able to return? Would you feel at liberty? Your answer, almost certainly, would be no.

Aung San Suu Kyi would politely disagree. “After I was released, people used to keep asking me, ‘What is it like to be free?’” she tells me, in her forthright, plummy English. “And it was very difficult for me to answer – I always felt free. As far as my state of mind was concerned, I didn’t feel any different… People ask me about what sacrifices I’ve made and I always answer that I’ve made no sacrifices – I’ve made choices. I don’t get angry. I wasn’t sacrificing myself for anybody. Really, it was a choice I made in accordance with what I believed.”

To most people, this might seem like inhuman stoicism. Aung San Suu Kyi, plainly, is not most people.

Our interview takes place in Rangoon in late July, in the tumbledown two-storey headquarters of the National League For Democracy, the political party Aung San Suu Kyi co-founded in 1988. Downstairs, a group of activists are listening to a lecture on political science. Upstairs, in a cool, clean office, The Lady – as she is known to her supporters – receives guests. Aung San Suu Kyi is a striking woman. Small and delicate as a sparrow, she is still, at 66, arrestingly beautiful. When we meet, she is wearing a grey, long-sleeved top with a floral print, a black skirt and no shoes. Her mahogany hair is tied back with green and white flowers. And, apart from her wide, dancing, chestnut eyes, she possesses a stillness that proves quite disarming.

This ability to project serenity is, as I would discover, a large part of her appeal. On the last day of my stay in Rangoon, I asked a young man who I knew to be a NLD supporter why he admired Aung San Suu Kyi so much. He said that when he saw her face, he felt “relaxed”. more

Land of shadows

As it emerges from isolation, the nation of Myanmar is caught between repression and reform, dark and light, writes Brook Larmer in National Geographic

It’s the magic hour in Yangon, when the last rays of sunlight, softer, cooler now, bathe the crumbling downtown in a golden glow, beckoning residents out into the streets. Giggling children race to buy fresh sugarcane juice. Women with cheeks daubed with a paste made of bark—the alluring Burmese sunblock—haggle with a fishmonger. In the street, bare-chested teenage boys in a circle play a rowdy game of chinlon, a sort of acrobatic Hacky Sack, while potbellied men in T-shirts and longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, sit on the sidewalk chewing red wads of betel nut.

The carnival-like atmosphere doesn’t last. Night falls fast in the tropics, and the power shortages that plague Myanmar give the sudden transition a spooky edge. A decaying colonial-era government building goes black. The alleyway next door emits the bluish glow of television sets powered by portable generators. Under the trees the vendors are invisible, but candles illuminate their wares: circles of silvery fish, clusters of purple banana flowers, stacks of betel leaves. And lined up in a blue wooden case, pirated DVDs of American movies and music.

“Welcome to the Hotel California,” calls out a voice from the shadows in perfect English. Three young men sit on plastic stools in the street, laughing at the greeting. The DVD vendor, a skinny 29-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and a pink button-down shirt, leaps up with a smile. Though his schooling ended in fourth grade, he speaks English in an eruption of phrases gleaned from Hollywood movies and 1950s grammar books. Meeting an American, he says, makes him feel “over the moon, on cloud nine, pleased as punch.” more

Suu Kyi the movie

The story of Aung San Suu Kyi’s life is being translated in film as The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh. From Time:

On Nov. 13, Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi walked free from seven years of house arrest in Rangoon. She called her son Kim Aris. She greeted supporters outside her lakeside home. Then she got on a plane to Bangkok where, on a stage erected in a parking lot on the city’s outskirts, she appeared in a film made by a bearded Frenchman called Luc Something.

That’s what some of the 2,000 Thai extras on the set of Luc Besson’s latest movie seem to think, and their confusion is forgivable. Since filming of his biopic The Lady began in Thailand in mid-October, everyone from Besson to best boy has been perplexed by how often art has imitated life — and vice versa.

Take Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh, the former Bond girl who plays Suu Kyi. Yeoh not only strongly resembles the lissome Nobel laureate, but also occupies the part so convincingly that Besson calls it “perfect for her.” “From the moment I saw this actress,” says Thein Win, a Burmese actor playing a member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), “I thought, ‘She is Daw [Aunt] Suu.’”

Movie magic and reality merged again when the junta finally allowed Suu Kyi to walk free. Besson had just re-created her release from a previous spell of house arrest, when she steps out of her Rangoon home to cheers from a crowd of supporters. Two days later, Besson and his cast sat in Yeoh’s Bangkok hotel suite to watch a near identical scene — this one for real — play out on TV. “It was surreal,” says Besson. Also in the room was Aris, chatting on the phone to his mother: “I’m here with Michelle. Yes, the woman playing you.” Then the champagne started flowing. “It was so sweet,” says Yeoh. “We were all very privileged to share that moment with him.” More:

First still pictures here.

Aung San Suu Kyi: I was both prisoner and maintenance woman

Jack Davies from Rangoon in The Guardian:

As she poses politely for photos, the Guardian asks who the golden bust behind her represents. “It’s supposed to be me,” she says. “I wish people wouldn’t make busts or posters of me, it is a very strange thing to be looking at yourself all the time. It’s not like this at my house, I promise you. I have pictures of my children.”

The building is filled to overflowing; the noise of a hundred conversations reverberate off the peeling wars and concrete floors. Today, there are more people than chairs, and those left without crouch against walls.

Across the road, perched on conspicuous orange motorbikes, the government’s spies are kept busy, watching her party headquarters through camera lenses and binoculars. But Aung San Suu Kyi is unconcerned about the attention from the military’s special branch. They will be her companion every day she is free.

“That is for them to worry about. I can only do what I feel I need to do, what I can do for the people of Burma,” she says. “They will follow me, I cannot stop that. I cannot worry.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is 65, but looks 20 years younger. A hint of grey at her temples is the only physical sign of the strains of two decades spent resisting a brutal military regime. She has a piercing gaze, which rarely moves from her interrogator, and her response is deliberate when pushed about the government’s overt, hostile attention. She is not frightened that she could be detained again – a fate that has befallen her for 15 of the last 21 years. More:

India, Burma and Suu Kyi

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri in Hindustan Times:

PV Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister is said to have made the decision to reverse India’s support for the elected but never enthroned ruler of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. It was not a decision lightly made: national interest in its hardest form shaped his view. Kashmir was in flames, India had to denude the Northeast of troops, but doing so would give free rein to the Naga insurgency. The solution: persuade the generals in Yangon (earlier Rangoon) to deny the rebels safe haven. Their price: end India’s support for Suu Kyi.

The episode was representative of two strands of New Delhi’s Look Near East Policy. One, the most important stake India has in Myanmar is its role in the stability and, one day, full integration of the northeastern states into the Indian milieu. Two, India believes a policy of quiet engagement with Myanmar eventually yields results.

India has little patience for the international community’s Myanmar caricature. There is Suu Kyi, the Democratic Beauty. There are the generals, the Despotic Beasts. And in between there are only rapacious Chinese businessmen, ethnic freedom fighters and gentle Buddhist monks.

Myanmar is a matter of greater nuance.

One, Suu Kyi and the generals are two sides of the dominant ethnic Burmese elite. If the junta has kept her alive, it is because they still see her, daughter of the late comrade-in-arms Aung San, as someone they can do business with. The real question has been: under what circumstances do we talk? More:

Aung San Suu Kyi aims for peaceful revolution

From BBC:

Two days after being freed from house arrest, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that her aim is for a peaceful revolution in Burma.

Speaking to the BBC at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy, she said she was sure democracy would come to Burma eventually, although she did not know how long it would take.

She said she would take any opportunity to speak to ruling generals.

Her release came six days after Burma held its first election in 20 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won the last election overwhelmingly but was never allowed to take power.

This poll was won by the biggest military-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but denounced by the West as being neither free nor fair. More:

She’s free

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been released by Myanmar’s military government on Saturday, November 13 after her latest term of detention expired. The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate was released after her latest round of detention of seven and a half years.

Read the AP wire story (via New York Times) here.

She might have been the most famous, but Aung San Suu Kyi is not Burma’s only political prisoner. The BBC says there could be over 2,000 political prisoners in Buma. Read that story here.

For full coverage, visit The Irrawaddy website

Watch an Al-Jazeera video on Myanmar’s democratic icon

We hear you Michael Aris, loud and clear

Amartya Sen takes India to task for tolerating tyranny in Burma and asks the world to call the bluff on its sham election. In Outlook.

It is difficult for me to talk about Burma without a deep sense of nostalgia. My earliest memories are all of Burma, where I grew up between the ages of three and six. My father was a visiting professor at the Agricultural College in Mandalay, on leave from Dhaka University. My first memory of striking natural beauty is that of sunrise over the Maymyo hills seen from our wooden house at the eastern edge of Mandalay. It was a thrilling sight even for a young boy. My first recollections of warm human relations stretching beyond my own family are also of kindly Burmese society. Mandalay was a lively city in the 1930s, and Burma a magically beautiful country. The richness of the land and the enormous capacity of the Burmese people to be happy and friendly shone brightly through the restraining lid of British colonialism. more

Aung San Suu Kyi’s first day of freedom. The Guardian newspaper has a photofeature here

Aung San Suu Kyi keeps her people, and the junta, waiting one more night

Jack Davies in Rangoon in The Guardian:

After seven years under house arrest and 15 of the last 21 incarcerated in some form by Burma’s military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi today chose one last night of imprisonment so that she might walk truly free.

As speculation over her imminent release reached fever pitch in her home city of Rangoon, word spread that military officials had visited her house and that the order had been signed authorising her immediate release.

Mid-afternoon Burma time, the Guardian understands, the 65-year-old was told she was free to leave the two-storey lakeside villa which the junta had made her prison for most of this decade.

Attached to her release, the military sought to impose strict conditions, understood to be restrictions on where she could travel within Burma, and with whom she could meet. More:

Aung San Suu Kyi: the private photo album

Knight of the Generals?

Shashi Tharoor in The Times of India:

As stage-managed elections ratify the consequences of three decades of military rule in Myanmar, the perspective from its neighbour India may help explain why there is continued international acceptance of the country’s long-ruling junta.

Burma was ruled as part of Britain’s Indian empire until 1935, and the links between the two countries remained strong after Burma gained its independence in 1947. An Indian business community thrived in Burma’s major cities, and cultural and political affinities were well established. India’s nationalist leader and first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a close friend of the Burmese nationalist hero Aung San, whose daughter, the Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, studied in New Delhi.

For many years, India was unambiguously on the side of democracy, freedom and human rights in Burma – and in ways more tangible than the rhetoric of the regime’s western critics. When the generals suppressed the popular uprising of 1988, nullified the overwhelming election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990, shot students, and arrested the newly-elected leaders, India’s government initially reacted as most Indians would have wanted. India gave asylum to fleeing students and a base for their resistance movement (along with some financial help), and supported a newspaper and a radio station that propagated the democratic voice. More:

Burma’s sham election

A Reuters report: Two military-backed parties looked set to prevail on Monday in Myanmar’s first election in 20 years, a day after a choreographed vote marred by fraud charges and apathy, and condemned as flawed by Washington and London. Complex election rules thwarted any chance of a pro-democracy upset as Myanmar ends half a century of direct army rule. State TV said voters “freely and happily” cast ballots, but witness accounts suggested low turn-out and voting irregularities. More:

If freed, Suu Kyi would face new political landscape

From The Irrawaddy:

If the country’s military leaders are to be believed, the 65-year-old Nobel laureate is due to be released from her current seven-year spell of house arrest on Nov. 13.

But the political landscape that Suu Kyi will face will be different from what she encountered during the two previous times she was freed from house arrest, the first in July 1995, and the second in May 2002. This nemesis of Burma’s military leaders has spent over 14 years as a prisoner in her lakeside home in Rangoon, the former capital, since July 1989.

This time, she will no longer have the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party she helped found in 1988, as a legitimate body to turn to. The NLD was banned this year for deciding to boycott the November poll. More:

After 10 years, Aung San Suu Kyi’s son prepares for reunion

From The Independent:

One of Aung San Suu Kyi’s sons has travelled to Bangkok in order to apply for a Burmese visa, so he can visit the detained opposition leader for the first time in 10 years – if she is freed from house arrest after tomorrow’s election.

Kim Aris, 33 – one of two sons of Ms Suu Kyi, 65, and her late husband, British academic Michael Aris – flew to the Thai capital from Britain. The last time he saw his mother was in December 2000 and previous visa applications have all failed.

Nyan Win, Ms Suu Kyi’s lawyer, told The Independent last night: “[She] is expecting to be released. She is making some preparations. She is planning meetings with the media and how she will handle her security.” The story of Ms Suu Kyi’s relationship with Mr Aris and her enforced isolation from her children is one of the many sad sub-plots of Burma’s decades-long struggle for democracy. More:

A guarded optimism in Burma as vote nears

From the New York Times:

During nearly five decades of military dictatorship, the impoverished population of Myanmar has become accustomed to hearing soldiers shout orders. And now comes a more unusual request from the ruling generals: Vote!

“Every citizen who values democracy and wants democratic rule must cast their votes without fail,” says a daily exhortation running in the state news media that urges voters to choose “candidates correctly.”

The national elections to be held here on Sunday are the first since an effort to form a Parliament 20 years ago was aborted by the military because it lost in a landslide. Judging from the junta’s enthusiasm, the generals appear confident that this time they will come out on top.

Many citizens of Myanmar, formerly Burma, both inside and outside the country dismiss the elections as a sham, an empty exercise in legitimizing the continued rule of the military, which will appoint a quarter of the members of the Parliament. There have been no campaign debates, the government has barred outside election monitors, the news media are heavily censored and parties must obtain permission to hold election rallies weeks in advance. More:

Inside Burma: Last call for the resistance: In Global Post

Will Aung San Suu Kyi be freed at last?

Aung Zaw is the founder and editor of the Irrawaddy Magazine, on Asia Sentinel:

Unnamed official sources in Burma have recently said that Aung San Suu Kyi will be released from house arrest on Nov. 13, when her current period of detention is due to expire. But is the Burmese regime really planning to free the detained Nobel Peace Prize winner? The answer to this question very much depends on one person: Senior General Than Shwe.

If Suu Kyi is released in November, it will not be before next month’s election. Pro-regime parties are expected to engineer a victory in the polls, which raises further questions about how Suu Kyi will respond to this situation if she is allowed to leave her home.

For the regime’s paramount leader, this is the crucial issue. He regards Suu Kyi as a potential threat to national security, and if he believes that she will continue to challenge his rule after she is freed, he will almost certainly find some pretext to extend her detention indefinitely. More:

Burma’s ‘three princesses’ prepare for election they have no chance of winning

From The Guardian:

A lifetime of frustration in Burmese politics has not wearied Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein. Her years as a political prisoner have not blunted her sense of humour.

“Some people call us the ‘three princesses of Burma’, but to the government, we are the three witches,” she laughs as, free now, she walks through the gardens of her once stately, now crumbling colonial home on a hilltop in the Burmese capital.

The “princesses” – she, Nay Ye Ba Swe, and Mya Than Than Nu – are too old for fairytales, she says, and the appellation she still finds faintly humorous.

They are princesses because their fathers were all prime ministers of Burma, part of the revered generation that fought for, and in 1948 won, freedom from British rule before it was snatched away again in a military coup in 1962.

The daughters have been friends since childhood, and have remained part of each others’ lives despite long years in prison and in exile. More:

Aung San Suu Kyi: The unseen photo album

New Year’s Day, 1972, Chelsea registry office in London. Aung San Suu Kyi and Michael Aris marry, aged 26 and 25 respectively. Photograph: Private Aris Family Collection. From The Guardian

On Saturday 19 June the Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi turned 65. From The Guardian:

She remains under house arrest in Rangoon, and to mark her birthday the Guardian has been given previously unpublished photographs taken from the private collection of her late husband, Michael Aris, showing the Burmese democracy movement leader as a young bride-to-be, mother and housewife. Proceeds from the pictures are being donated to Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao Clinic (maetaoclinic.org), a charity that provides free healthcare for refugees, migrant workers and other people who cross the border from Burma to Thailand and Prospect Burma, which helps educate Burmese students, either in exile or within Burma. See photographs in The Guardian.

Read in The Guardian: She is known to the world as a human rights activist who has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest as punishment for demanding democracy in her home country. But in these photographs Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is shown not as the fearless campaigner who has given up her liberty for the sake of her nation, but as a young woman in love and a doting mother.

Burma’s hip-hop resistance

Thxa Soe’s music gives Burma’s youth a focus for dissatisfaction with the military junta despite strict censorship writes Jack Davies in The Guardian

They know every word. Boys, bare-chested and sweating in the April heat. Girls clutching digital cameras, their faces streaked with paste to protect them from the sun. They answer the call-and-response lines with increasing excitement. By the time Thxa Soe reaches the chorus, the crowd have taken over. With fists pumping the air, they roar his words back at him.

This is a summer music festival, soaked in alcohol and drenched in sweat, the same as anywhere. But this is Burma, and nothing is the same here. more


Aung San Suu Kyi, a leaking roof, and the brother who won’t let her fix it

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi lives in this house on University Avenue in Yangon, on the shores of Inya Lake. The military has blocked off University Avenue since 1999, making the house inaccessible to anyone without special permission. Yangon, Myanmar, 1995. Image: tap tap tap /cc

Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

The dispute between Ms Suu Kyi and Aung San Oo, her elder brother and only surviving sibling, dates back to 1988 when their mother, Khin Kyi, living at the white, colonial-style building located in Rangoon’s University Avenue, suffered a stroke. As the health of their mother, the wife of Burma’s independence leader Aung San and a woman who served as Burma’s ambassador to India and Nepal, worsened, Ms Suu Kyi returned to Burma from her home in Oxford to care for her.

Nine months later her mother suffered a second stroke and died in late December, by which time the country’s fledgling democracy movement had already mounted fierce challenges to the government, in which up to 6,000 democracy activists had been killed.

Ms Suu Kyi, who had first encountered the protesting students when they brought wounded comrades for treatment at the hospital where she was caring for her mother, was swept up in the struggle. She began addressing huge crowds, and was quickly acclaimed the legitimate heir to her father as the champion of Burmese freedom.

According to her lawyer, Mr San Oo said that she could continue to live in the family home for as long as she wanted, only stipulating that if she sold it, he would receive half the proceeds. Nothing more was heard of the matter until 2000 when Ms Suu Kyi’s brother, who by this time had taken US citizenship and emigrated to California with his Burmese wife, launched a legal action in the Rangoon High Court for the house to be divided. On that occasion, Ms Suu Kyi’s lawyers were successful and defeated the action but the following year, her brother, who is an an engineer, filed suit again. The matter is still pending. More:

Rapping at the Burmese Junta

From Asia Sentinel:

The chain-link gate slides open to reveal a group of young shaven-headed Burmese men and two girls sitting outside a house in Mae Sot, a scruffy town on the Thai side of the Thai-Burmese border.

All are members of Generation Wave, an underground group dedicated to overthrowing the repressive military junta that has ruled Burma since 1962. The odds are against them, as they have been against a long series of movements harboring in Mae Sot and Chiang Mai in Thailand. Nonetheless, Generation Wave has a certain amount of panache, attempting to reach Burma’s youth by using rap and hip hop music and graffiti to inspire others to stand up to authority

“We’ve cut our hair Saffron style,” said Aung Min, one of GW’s founders, referring to the failed Saffron Uprising in 2007, in which tens of thousands took to the streets, led by Buddhist monks, only to have at least 135 people and possibly more shot down by the military. “If something happens in Burma we can go in there quickly and mingle with the monks.” More:

Aung San Suu Kyi: 5,000 days in captivity

To commemorate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 64th birthday on June 19, The Irrawaddy invited its readers to submit their artwork featuring the Nobel Peace Prize winner. The sketch above is by the artist Ko Khaing.

To commemorate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 64th birthday on June 19, The Irrawaddy invited its readers to submit their artwork featuring the Nobel Peace Prize winner. The sketch above is by the artist Ko Khaing.

Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:

Today, like most days, Aung San Suu Kyi will sit and wait. She will spend the day with the two women she has been detained with since 2003. That she is being held in a “guesthouse” in the grounds of Rangoon’s Insein jail, as opposed to her lakeside house where she has spent the past six years, makes little difference; she has no television, radio or phone. But today is special, and for the most dismal of reasons. It is the 5,000th day of her incarceration.

Ms Suu Kyi is being held at the prison, having been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after a mysterious American swam to her home and spent the night there. In truth, the only crime committed by the graceful opposition leader was to win an election two decades ago. Even now, the junta is terrified that this slight 64-year-old widow has the power to do something they have never been able to do: lead and unite the people of Burma without the threat of force. That is why she is kept a prisoner, out of sight but never out of mind.

Yesterday, in a move that underlined the regime’s fear about Ms Suu Kyi’s latent power, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was refused permission to speak with her. On a controversial visit to Burma to try to convince Senior General Than Shwe to release more than 2,000 political prisoners and restart dialogue with the opposition, Mr Ban said his request for a meeting with Ms Suu Kyi had been turned down. “I pressed as hard as I could. I had hoped that he would agree to my request, but it is regrettable that he did not,” he told reporters. “I am deeply disappointed that they have missed a very important opportunity.” More:

When she’s 64

aung-san-suu-kyi1Thanks to Sanjoy Narayan of the Hindustan Times for this brilliant link to 64 for Aung San Suu Kyi. The website is a place where you can leave words of support for Burma’s imprisoned democracy leader who turned 64 on June 19 this year.

Writes Sanjoy: Already, the website has garnered messages from people from around the globe-politicians, actors and celebrities but also individuals who have pledged their support and demanded the release of Suu Kyi who has been under detention for much of the past 19 years.

You can visit the site to read, hear and watch the hundreds of messages left by people, including luminaries from the world’s power list like actor George Clooney, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Czech leader Vaclav Havel, football star David Beckham,  actor Daniel Craig, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President of the Maldives M Nasheed, author Salman Rushdie, actor Julia Roberts, UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron, Madeleine Albright, Steven Spielberg, Orhan Pamuk and several others.

There are tweets from Yoko Ono, a video from Richard Branson plus a blog that’s regularly updated on the website.

To send your own message or to link to the site click here.

Do not forget Burma

Laura Bush — yes, former First Lady and wife of poor, reviled Dubya — emerges a champion of an unlikely cause in The Washington Post

free-burmaFor two weeks, the world has been transfixed by images of Iranians taking to the streets to demand the most basic human freedoms and rights. Watching these courageous men and women, I am reminded of a similar scene nearly two years ago in Burma, when tens of thousands of Buddhist monks peacefully marched through their nation’s streets. They, too, sought to reclaim basic human dignity for all Burmese citizens, but they were beaten back by that nation’s harsh regime.

Since those brutal days in September 2007, Burma’s suffering has intensified. In the past 21 months, the number of political prisoners incarcerated by the junta has doubled. Within the past 10 days, two Burmese citizens were sentenced to 18 months in prison. Their offense: praying in a Buddhist pagoda for the release of the jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. That is only the tip of the regime’s brutality. Inside Burma, more than 3,000 villages have been “forcibly displaced” — a number exceeding the mass relocations in genocide-racked Darfur. The military junta has forced tens of thousands of child soldiers into its army and routinely uses civilians as mine-sweepers and slave laborers. It has closed churches and mosques; it has imprisoned comedians for joking about the government and bloggers for writing about it. Human trafficking, where women and children are snatched and sold, is pervasive. Summary executions pass for justice, while lawyers are arrested for the “crime” of defending the persecuted.


[Pic: Jurablog's photostream under creative commons]

American ‘fool’ gets Suu Kyi into more trouble

Burma’s detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged with violating the terms of her house arrest after an American man swam across a lake to gain access to her compound. Her trial has been set for May 18.

An AFP report says the 53-year-old American, John William Yettaw, is said to be a Mormon and Vietnam War veteran “with a quixotic world view.” The Nobel laureate campaigner’s chief lawyer said, “he is a fool.”


Detained American Visited Suu Kyi Before?

The opposition newspaper Irrawaddy said the American who swam across the lake to Suu Kyi’s house, may have made another secret visit to her last year. A report in the paper, quoting Burma’s state-run newspapers, says:

“Yettaw swam on the night of May 3 to the lakeside home of the 63-year-old Suu Kyi and left the same way on the night of May 5, before being arrested the next morning. The swimming distance between the house and where he was arrested is about 1 1/4 miles (2 kilometers).

“The reports said the man was found with an empty 1.3-gallon (5-liter) plastic water jug-presumably used as a floatation device-as well as a US passport, a flashlight, pliers, a camera, two $100 bills and some local currency.” Click here to read the full report.

He was on a “spiritual quest,” says his family

The Telegraph, UK, quoting the daughter of the American man who swam across the lake to Suu Kyi’s house, says he was already psychologically scarred by the Vietnam war, and “tipped over the edge by his 17-year old son’s death two years ago.”

“He probably thought he would be in and out and no one would know, because that’s what happened before,” said his wife, Betty Yettaw, referring to a previously unknown visit last summer when Mrs Suu Kyi’s maids turned him away without seeing her. More:

American man swims across lake to Suu Kyi’s house, spends three days there

From the Times:

aung-san-suu-kyiAn American man has been arrested in Burma after allegedly spending three nights at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s detained opposition leader.

John William Yeattaw, 53, was fished out of Yangon’s Inya Lake early on Wednesday after returning from a visit to Ms Suu Kyi’s lakeside home, according to the Myanma Ahlin newspaper. He had confessed to swimming across the lake on Sunday evening and sneaking into her home, the newspaper reported.

Today, more than 20 police entered Ms Suu Kyui’s compound where she has been kept under house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years. The compound is tightly guarded and she is not allowed visitors, aside from her doctor.

“He secretly entered the house and stayed there,” the newspaper reported, saying that he swam with an empty 5-litre plastic water jug, presumably to use as a float. More: