Friday, June 19, 2009

At 64, Aung San Suu Kyi is still relevant

(Asia News Net - The Nation) - The widespread international support for Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi did not come into being in a blink. She has been under house arrest by the heartless military junta in Rangoon for the past 13 years. Yet her determination and conviction remain unchanged, making her the icon of democracy and a beacon of hope for the Burmese people. On her 64th birthday today, she is still very relevant.

The farcical trial that the junta cooked up to put her in jail again is changing the pattern of international concern and support. Never before have so many countries, big and small, expressed solidarity with Suu Kyi's cause and struggle. Hopefully this unity will continue in the foreseeable future, and Burma has placed all its bets on how long this cooperation lasts.

The junta leaders know that in the hordes of problems facing the world, Burma is not one of the issues that would hold everyone's attention and persistent scrutiny. However, the junta is wrong this time because the international community, including Asean, has become more vocal in reacting to the situation inside Burma and Suu Kyi's trial.

It is interesting to note the junta once hoped that by incarcerating Suu Kyi, she would be forgotten in no time. Yet this was not the case. Since the Depayin incident in May 2003 when she almost got killed by government-sponsored thugs, the Burmese people have been taking Suu Kyi very seriously. Her popularity and trust in her leadership is becoming more and more visible, which is why the junta wants to get rid of her and ensure she will never play a part in the political scheme of things.

Over the years, one often hears that too much attention is being focused on her plight and struggle. Some Asean leaders even ridiculed her in the 1990s, saying she did not know her own country having spent most of her life abroad and marrying a foreigner.

When she wrote to Asean foreign ministers back in 1995 urging them to not recognise the junta, her letter was ignored. However, all that has changed with the trial and the junta's attempt to put her behind bars again. The international community, Asean and other key players are demanding her freedom - a common endeavour that has shocked the military rulers. Asean is now willing to speak on her behalf. Clearly, the junta leaders have no idea that international support for her will only grow stronger the longer they keep her behind bars.

Like it or not, she will definitely become part of a future political solution, if one does come about. Some Burmese apologists say she has no role to play. Before the latest trial began, many countries in the West were thinking of new ways to engage Burma and its leaders. They thought the best thing would be to accept the junta-sponsored roadmap, which has entered its final stage entailing elections and the setting up of a new government by next year.

However, Suu Kyi's latest trial has made these countries do a bit of soul searching to see if the junta really deserves any sympathy or humanitarian assistance.

In the next few weeks, it would be interesting to watch developments inside the country. Asean has to act upon its charter, which the Burmese junta refuses to follow.

Any Asean country can be reprimanded if it fails to follow the charter, which was put into effect last December. However, it would take extraordinary moral courage for Asean members to raise the issue among themselves. But surely they realise the junta can't be allowed to get away scot-free, because the Asean charter should stand for something.

Collective support from Asean for Suu Kyi and inclusive politics in Burma represents a new benchmark for the grouping, and members are hoping their new charter will be respected and followed.

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