Friday, May 15, 2009

The Lady, a “Fool” and a Crazy Dictator

The Irrawaddy News

Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Kyi Win, is an angry man. His client is now in jail as a result of a madcap escapade by the American intruder John William Yettaw.

“Everyone is very angry with this wretched American,” said Kyi Win. “He is the cause of all these problems. He's a fool.”

While creating serious problems for Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD), the American swimmer was a
blessing in disguise for the regime leaders in Naypyidaw. They now have an excuse to extend Suu Kyi’s current six-year term of detention, which was to have ended this month.

The bizarre affair pits an eccentric American against a man who probably is really insane—the junta’s cunning leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

Indications of the state of Than Shwe’s unsound mind first surfaced in the early 2000s, when he and his family were reported to be behaving like royalty.

In 2005, Than Shwe relocated Burma’s capital to Naypyidaw after secretly constructing a new power center in the rural depths of Burma, at an estimated cost running into billions of dollars.

Than Shwe then bought a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor from Russia and declared to a doubting world that the secrecy-shrouded investment was for peaceful purposes. He reportedly confided to his subordinates that he planned to make Burma a nuclear nation.

He is said to be a devout Buddhist and recently participated with family members in the consecration of a replica of Rangoon’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda.

For all his devout piety, however, family sources suggest that Than Shwe and his wife are superstitious and often consult astrologers, even when making major policy decisions.

Among these decisions were moves to steer Burma into an even darker corner of the world—by restoring formal diplomatic ties, for instance, with North Korea.

Relations between the two countries were broken off in 1983 after a Rangoon bomb attack by North Korean terrorists on a visiting South Korean delegation headed by then-President Chun Doo-hwan.

Burma has sent secret missions to North Korea, and although little news emerges about these visits it is known that the regime is buying arms, including short-range missiles, from the hermit state.

In May 2003, Than Shwe and his hard-line ministers launched an attack on a Suu Kyi motorcade in the heartland of Burma.

The thuggish attack on Suu Kyi and her supporters sparked outrage within the international community. Than Shwe and his regime responded by placing her under house arrest.

Despite the treatment she received at the hands of the regime, Suu Kyi made clear she bore no grudge and extended an olive branch to Than Shwe, seeking political dialogue and national reconciliation.

Than Shwe, however, made clear for his part that he had no interest in meeting Suu Kyi. Instead, he introduced the country to a “road map” leading to what he promised would be “disciplined democracy.”

A new constitution was drawn up and put to the country in 2008 in a national referendum which not even Cyclone Nargis could delay.

The regime made the preposterous claim that the rigged referendum had been approved by more than 90 percent of the electorate. The document provided for a general election to be held in 2010, although no precise date has yet been announced—and even an election law is still awaited.

Suu Kyi’s NLD—outright winner of the 1990 election—recently took a bold step and said it would participate in the 2010 election if the regime met a series of demands, including the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, changes to the constitution and for international observers to be allowed to monitor the poll.

Interestingly, the NLD did not call on the regime to honor the outcome of the 1990 election. Analysts greeted the moderate stance.

Than Shwe had other things on his mind and rejected an appeal by Suu Kyi’s lawyers to free her. He was clearly looking for a reason to justify an extension of her detention.

He was also eager to build the regime’s image and inform the public about “progress” in his country.

Two weeks ago, while not bothering to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, Than Shwe arrogantly claimed at a top brass meeting that his country had almost tripled its rice production over the past two decades. He claimed a food surplus existed, despite the destruction in the delta and reports of famine in Chin State.

“There is no need to worry about food even when the nation's population reaches 100 million,” Than Shwe boasted.

His message appeared to be that since Burma has enough rice all its problems are solved. He enjoys living in this world of his own.

The xenophobic regime supremo shuns visiting UN envoys and doesn’t like meeting ambassadors who raise the issue of Suu Kyi’s detention. He is said to take refuge in pre-emptive action when meeting foreign dignitaries who dare to raise the issue.

With Yettaw and Suu Kyi in prison, Than Shwe may have thought that he has more justification to lecture his foreign guests on the reasons for keeping the Lady behind bars.

If any foreign officials are ready to accept such an explanation, Than Shwe will not need to seek psychiatric treatment.

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