AUNG SAN SUU KYI'S RELEASED FROM PRISON IN 1995
Aung San Suu Kyi was suddenly freed after six years of incarceration on July, 10, 1995. When asked how it felt to be released after six years, she said: "Quite frankly, I did not what to feel. I said to myself, ‘Well, I'm free. I did not really hanker for the great world outside. I felt that the important thing was to be able to live inside myself and be free."
The government controlled Burmese media made no mention of Aung San Suu Kyi's release, but people quickly heard about it through foreign radio broadcast and word of mouth. Joining wellwishers, journalist, opposition activities and diplomats were plain-clothed intelligence officers.
In September 1994, Gen. Than Shwe and Gen. Khin Nyunt of SLORC—Myanmar top rulling generals— met Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time since the house arrest. When asked by Time is had any inkling she was about to be released Aung San Suu Kyi said: "Not until my [military liaison man] came to see me earlier that day and told me that Colonel Kyaw Win would be coming. I knew that it was for my release." The decision to release Aung San Suu Kyi was reportedly made on July 1, 1995 by Than Shwe. "He was the sole person to decide," one officer told Time. "Once his decisions as made, the rest of the bureaucracy was bound to follow."
Many people feel that Aung San Suu Kyi’s release was an attempt by the surprising regime to fend off foreign criticism and secure loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund without making any real reforms. "Was it just a publicity stunt?" Aung San Suu Kyi told Time. "Or was it designed to get more investment from abroad? Was it merely a way to lighten international pressure, or was it really for the good of the nation for all of us to work together? I certainly hope it is the latter, but only time will tell."
Aung San Suu Kyi Life After her Release
After Aung San Suu Kyi was released in 1995 she still remained largely confined to her house. She was able to meet with her supporters and the press. In 1996 her phones lines were cut and anyone who talked to her was regarded as a criminal. In her free time she read detective novels by Ruth Rendell and P.D. James and listened to CDs. She supported herself with money earned from writing newspaper articles for a Japanese newspaper and donations of rice, cooking oil and other staples from supporters. "Technically I am not under house arrest," she wrote, "because I can go out and some visitors can come in and see me. But as you can see for yourselves, the authorities do not hesitate to keep out visitors whom they do not wish me to meet."
A year after she was released two appointment secretaries—one for foreign dignitaries and another for fellow party members—worked with Aung San Suu Kyi to help her take care of the thousands of visitors who came to see her. "I'm afraid, I can no longer keep a strict timetable," she told the Los Angeles Times, "I can't get up early at 4:30 anymore, because there are times I don't get to bed until 2:00am. If I got up early I wouldn't be able to operate full steam for 12 hours. [Source: Scott Craft, Los Angeles, April 20, 1996]
On a typical day Aung San Suu Kyi visited the NLD offices and she and her supporters issued statements directed at the military government (SLORC) asking it to refrain from violence. She also worked at trying to find out the fate of pro-democracy supporters, who has been sent to prison or arrested. Many had been given long prison sentences or had been intimidated or threatened.
In October 1995, the NLD defied the junta’s ban on changes in party leadership positions and reappointed Aung San Suu Kyi as the party’s General Secretary. Between 1996 and 2000 Aung San Suu Kyi defied travel bans imposed against her and continually tried to leave Rangoon. In March 1996, she boarded the train bound for Mandalay but citing a “last minute problem” the coach she was in was left behind at the station.
Pro-Democracy Activities After Aung San Suu Kyi’s Release
After her release in 1995, Aung San Suu Kyi told the New York Times, "I'm a free citizen but the country is not free. So I feel like a free citizen in an unfree country. I appreciate the opportunity to be in touch with the people. That is what our work is all about." In a statement issued to foreign aid donors, she said, "We're nowhere near democracy. I've been released that's all. There's nothing else. The situation hasn't changed in any other way. All those who are interested in the development of democracy in Burma should wait to see what happens next."
After her release Aung San Suu Kyi repeatedly called for talks between the military government and representatives of the pro-democracy movement. "The most positive aspect of things since my release," Aung San Suu Kyi told the Los Angeles Times, "is the fact that our party has become far more active. We've been reorganizing and reconsolidating. We've been subjected to a lot of restrictions. There continues to be intimidations and harassment."
Almost every Saturday and Sunday after her release Aung San Suu Kyi appeared at a platform set up in her driveway at four in the afternoon to address supporters who stood behind barricades while traffic police directed traffic along University Avenue. See Places
In May and June of 1996, chanting crowds of 10,000 people showed up at her house. Around this time newspapers complained that supporters were creating a "traffic nuisance" After she finished speaking, she hung around to make sure here supporters got away without being arrested or harassed.
On November 9, 1996, a motorcade that Aung San Suu Kyi was traveling in with other National League for Democracy leaders Tin Oo and U Kyi Maung was attacked in Yangon. About 200 men swooped down on the motorcade, wielding metal chains, metal batons, stones and other weapons. The car that Aung San Suu Kyi was in had its rear window smashed, and the car with Tin Oo and U Kyi Maung had its rear window and two backdoor windows shattered. It is believed the attackers were members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) who were allegedly paid 500 kyats ($50) each to participate. The NLD lodged an official complaint with the police, and according to reports the government launched an investigation, but no action was taken. [Source: Amnesty International]
National League for Democracy Party
: The National League for Democracy Party (NLD) is the main opposition party. It was founded in October 1988. Aung San Suu Kyi has been its nominal head since 1988. The NLP was never officially outlawed. Yet over the years Myanmar’s military regime has done its best to suppress it. The NLP once had 500 offices. There were about 50 when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2002.The symbol of the NLD is the fighting peacock. A flag with this symbol has been unfurled at Shwedagon Pagoda.
The NLP has its headquarters in a grubby, sweltering concrete office in Yangon that didn’t have an air conditioner until 2002. Describing the activities in office at that time, Peter Popham wrote in the Independent, “A woman in the corner is going full pelt with a treadle sewing machine, running up party flags; at the fare end a free English lesson is in progress...Party members scoop drinking water out of a cauldron that sits on a tripod behind a column. The librarian marshals her small, battered collection of books.
Many NLD members have spent some time in jail. Some are still in jail. Occasionally the road to the headquarters is blocked by the government. Members are watched by informers. Tim Oo is widely regarded as the second most important member of the NLP after Aung San Suu Kyi. He is the Party Vice Chairman. He was imprisoned for a long time at a military camp. He was released in January 2001. U Lwin is secretary of the NLP. The majority of the small inner circle around Aung San Suu Kyi are former military officers and associates or followers of her father Aung San. Both the regime and its leading opponents therefore form a small political elite.
History of the National League for Democracy Party
Erika Kinetz and Aye Aye Win of Associated Press wrote: “The NLD was founded in the wake of Myanmar's thwarted 1988 popular uprising, when students, monks and ordinary citizens swarmed the streets demanding political change. The country's military junta cracked down, killing several thousand and successfully stalling the momentum of revolution. It was then that Aung San Suu Kyi's political career — and the National League for Democracy — were born. Within two months of its founding, the NLD began planning a nationwide congress to elect leaders, but they were only able to hold a few township elections."Then all of us were sent to jail and kept there for a long time," said Win Tin, 83, a journalist and NLD founder. [Source: Erika Kinetz and Aye Aye Win, Associated Press, March 8, 2013 <>]
“The very night Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November 2010, NLD leaders met with her to discuss how to reinvigorate the party, Win Tin said. The NLD re-registered as a political party in January 2012, swept parliamentary by-elections in April, and by June had begun convening more than 17,000 elections to select local representatives and delegates for the all-party congress. <>
Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “The headquarters of the National League for Democracy...is a crumbling two-story cinder-block building, with peeling green paint, exposed electrical wires, and tattered posters of Che Guevara, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her father, Aung San. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]
According to Associated Press: “These days, the tables outside the NLD's Yangon headquarters are littered with the junk of celebrity. There are Suu Kyi mugs, key chains, postcards, posters, photos, pins, fans and even a few corporate day planners. All are for sale. Inside, the tight, two-story space is plastered with her image — ever beautiful and poised — and that of her father, Gen. Aung San, who is regarded as the founder of independent Myanmar. One could be forgiven for mistaking the place as a shrine, except for the general dishevelment and buzz of activity. <>
Repression, Protests and Violence in the mid 1990s
In the summer of 1996, the military government began intimidating Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters and threatening to arrest them. By September 1996, the crowds at here house were reduced to 1,500 or so people and they rarely cheered or applauded.
In October, 1996, party officials were rounded up and interrogated, riot police set up barbed blockades around Aung San Suu Kyi’s house and arrested more than 400 people who tried to approach it. Police also late set up barbed barricades around the NPL headquarters. Aung San Suu Kyi’s speeches stopped in November after the soldiers surrounding her house and let thugs through who beat up supporters that protected her. The road to her house was still blocked in November 1998.
In early December 1996, 2,000 students at Yangon Institute of Technology staged a peaceful 20-hour demonstration. Later other protests were staged. These were broken up with water cannons and batons. Army tanks rumbled into Yangon. During one protest, three monks were killed and 100 were arrested. Buddhist monks were angry with the military government for cloaking their repression and corruption under Buddhism. The government was accused of building new pagodas while melting Buddha images to get the gems inside.
Rangoon University was closed down in 1996. It was still closed in November 1998. Hundreds of university students were jailed.
Aung San Suu Kyi's Attempt to Leave Rangoon
Part of the terms of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release was that she was prohibited from traveling outside of Rangoon. The military regime maintained that prohibition was for her own safety On several occasions Aung San Suu Kyi's attempted to leave Rangoon. Each time her effort was thwarted. A couple times in 1996 there were standoffs that lasted for a couple days. Once when Aung San Suu Kyi was attempting to travel to Mandalay by train to attend the trial of four NLD supporters her coach was detached from the rest of train and the train took off without her.
In July 1998, Aung San Suu Kyi attempted to driver her car to a NLD meeting with her supporters about 100 miles west of Yangon. During her first attempt her car was stopped about 60 miles outside of Yangon and police literally picked up her car and turned it around.
Later she tried again: this time with a car full of food, water and medical supplies. At a roadblock, she refused to get out of her car and remained inside for six days. Finally, police threw her associates out of the car and police officers climbed inside, held Aung San Suu Kyi down in her car and drove the car back to her home against he will. At the time the car was turned around she was lying the back seat with a fever of 104°. Another stand off, a month later, lasted for 13 days. That time she gave up after she became dehydrated and her health had deteriorated.
Aung San Suu Kyi endured another roadside standoff in August and September 2000. This time she was blocked by military vehicles just south of Rangoon. The official Myanmar website reported: “"Daw Suu Kyi and her travel companions continue to resist...while authorities provide food and drinks to ensure her a comfortable and enjoyable stay." This standoff lasted for nine days until security forces physically forced her home.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014