AUNG SAN SUU KYI AFTER HER RELEASE FROM HOUSE ARREST IN 2010

AUNG SAN SUU KYI AFTER HER RELEASE FROM HOUSE ARREST IN 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi was released in November 13, 2010 by the military authorities days after the pro-military party swept elections. The month before she reached a total of 15 years in detention, most of it under house arrest. AFP reported: “Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi walked free on Saturday after seven years as a prisoner in her own home, calling on a sea of jubilant supporters to unite in the face of repression. Waving and smiling, she appeared outside the crumbling lakeside mansion where she had been locked up by the military rulers, to huge cheers and clapping from the waiting crowds. [Source: AFP, November 13, 2010 ::]

Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “In a tragic place scented by tropical blooms, it was the simplest of gestures. As Aung San Suu Kyi peered out of the crumbling villa complex where she has been confined for much of the past two decades, one of the thousands of well-wishers gathered to mark her moment of freedom handed her a nosegay of flowers. Smiling, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate received the fragrant benediction and tucked the blossoms in her hair. "We haven't seen each other for so long. I have so much to tell you," Suu Kyi said to her supporters, with an understatement that belied the seven years of house arrest she had endured in her most recent stint at the hands of Burma's military regime. "We have a lot of things to do." [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, November 29, 2010]

"We must work together in unison," she told thousands of waiting people, suggesting she has no intention of giving up her long fight for democracy in what is one of the world's oldest dictatorships. Many people hugged each other with joy at the sight of the 65-year-old dissident, known in Myanmar simply as "The Lady". She wore a pale purple top and appeared in good health after her latest stretch of detention. "I'm so glad to see her in person, but she looks older than before. The last time I saw her was in 2002," said one supporter, Htein Win. Suu Kyi asked the crowd to come to her party's headquarters at noon on Sunday to hear her speak after she struggled to make herself heard over the roar of cheers, then went back inside her home as the crowds lingered outside. ::

"I think of her as my mother and also my sister and grandmother because she's the daughter of our independence leader General Aung San," said 45-year-old Naing Naing Win. "She has her father's blood." Despite the risks of opposing the military regime in a country with more than 2,200 political prisoners, many supporters wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words: "We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi." Undercover police were photographing and filming the crowds. ::

Associated Press reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi said that her recent release from seven years of detention did not signal a softening in the military’s harsh, decades-long rule of the Southeast Asian nation. She called her detention “illegal” and said she was released simply because the decreed period of her house arrest had ended. “I don’t think there were any other reasons,” she said in an interview in her small, Spartan office, decorated with little beyond a vase of flowers and a black and white photograph of her late father, Aung San, who helped lead colonial Burma to independence from Britain. “My detention had come to an end and there were no immediate means of extending it,” she said. [Source: AP, November 18, 2010 <>]

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate has made it clear she plans to pursue her goal of a democratic Myanmar but has been careful not to verbally challenge the junta or call for its overthrow. “I haven’t seen any sign of the junta at all since I came out. They haven’t made any move to let us know what they feel about the situation,” she said She added, though, that her goals would not change- “I had better go on living until I see a democratic Burma,” she said, laughing. She has called for face-to-face talks with junta leader Gen. Than Shwe to reach national reconciliation. More than 2,200 political prisoners remain behind bars. <>

Aung San Suu Kyi was set free on her scheduled release date. “Either the regime considered it safe to let her go or they felt they could not further extend her sentence,” a Western diplomat told The New Yorker. World leaders were quick to welcome her release, with US President Barack Obama hailing her as "a hero of mine." He said it was time for the Myanmar junta to free all political prisoners. Many observers believe her release was timed to shift attention away from the elections and the international condemnation of them. “It’s a public relations maneuver to appease domestic opinion as well as the international community, and at deflect attention from the fraudulent November 7 elections, Bertil Lintner, a prominent writer on Myanmar, said.

A week before her release, a military-backed political party swept the first elections in 20 years amid widespread accusations that the balloting was rigged (See Separate Article on the 2010 Elections).

Aung San Suu Kyi After her Release in November 2010

The day after her release about 10,000 turned out for her first speech. Hannah Beech wrote in Time,“Suu Kyi dived right back into the political fray. In a speech at the headquarters of the National League for Democracy. "My message is not for the Western nations in particular, and my message is not for those parties that took part in the election," she said as thousands of fans withstood the beating noon sun to hear her. "It is for all those that are interested in seeing democracy in Burma. For all of us, there are times when we need help, and this is a time for Burma when we need help." [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, November 29, 2010]

Two days after she was released, Associated Press reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi began the nuts and bolts work of reviving her political movement, consulting lawyers about having her now-disbanded party declared legal again. The 65-year-old Nobel Peace laureate must balance the expectations of the country’s pro-democracy movement with the realities of freedom that could be withdrawn any time by the regime. Although her party is officially dissolved, it has continued operating with the same structure. But without official recognition, it is in legal limbo, leaving it — and her — vulnerable to government crackdowns. [Source: AP, November 15, 2010 }{]

“Suu Kyi has indicated she would continue with her political activity but not whether she would challenge the military with mass rallies and other activities. She has been noncommittal on sanctions, saying she would support lifting them if the people of Burma provided strong justification for doing so. In an interview Monday with the BBC, Suu Kyi said she sought “a non-violent revolution” and offered some reassuring words for the military. “I don’t want to see the military falling. I want to see the military rising to dignified heights of professionalism and true patriotism,” she said. Suu Kyi also said she did not fear being detained again. “I’m not scared,” she said. “I know that there is always a possibility, of course. They’ve done it back in the past, they might do it again.” }{

“Nyan Win, who is her lawyer as well as a party spokesman, said Suu Kyi met with her lawyers and also party officials from areas outside Rangoon who have been keeping her political network alive during years of repression. He said Burma’s High Court this Thursday will hold a hearing to decide whether to accept a case from Suu Kyi arguing that her party’s dissolution “is not in accordance with the law.” The party was disbanded earlier this year under a new law because it failed to reregister for Nov. 7 elections, complaining conditions set by the junta were unfair and undemocratic. Suu Kyi’s side says the new Election Commission has no right to deregister parties that were registered under a different Election Commission in 1990. The party also contends that the court is legally bound to hear their case. }{

Steve Finch and John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post, “Suu Kyi said she would consider recognizing a parliament that was elected in a vote widely derided as a fraud and might support a softening of international sanctions intended to weaken the government. She called for talks with all parties and groups within Burma's political landscape, which has been badly fractured by decades of civil war and an almost complete lack of discussion between her party and the junta. As for human rights violations by the junta, Suu Kyi said she favored a truth-and-reconciliation process in which perpetrators would be asked to come forward in a manner similar to that in post-apartheid South Africa. "That is different from meting out grave punishment in a vengeful manner for what has been done," she said. [Source: Steve Finch and John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 15, 2010 **]

“Suu Kyi stepped away from her strong support for economic sanctions against the government that were imposed by the United States and the European Union. "Obviously, there has to be a time when we must rethink the situation," she said of the measures, which have been a major point of contention between her and Than Shwe's junta. After recent comments that she might set up a Twitter account, Suu Kyi said she was deciding whether to opt for a Facebook page instead, given that younger Burmese tended to choose the latter. Twitter is banned in Burma but can be accessed easily through proxy servers, as with many other barred Web sites in the country. }{

Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “But even as the world watches Burma with renewed interest in the wake of Suu Kyi's release, she has not yet met the people with whom she most wants to talk. The regime has ignored her repeated offers for national reconciliation dialogue. Since releasing her, the junta has dealt with Suu Kyi by acting as if she didn't exist, expunging mentions of her from the local press and hoping that, despite her busy calendar and the huge crowds that gather wherever she goes, she will somehow dwindle into irrelevance. "I wish I could have tea with them every Saturday, a friendly tea," Suu Kyi says of the generals, who refused to allow her dying husband one last visit to Burma in 1999. And if they turn down a nice cup of tea? "We could always try coffee," she says wryly. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010]

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Life After her Release in November 2010

Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “Ever since she was released, Suu Kyi's days have been divided and subdivided into one-hour or 15-minute increments, during which she has met a dizzying array of people: foreign diplomats, AIDS patients, NGO directors, local economists, U.N. officials and the families of political prisoners. She even chatted by phone in December with former First Lady Laura Bush, who had championed the Burmese cause. When her son Kim was in Rangoon to see her for the first time in a decade, his kindness came in the form of a gift, a puppy to keep her company. "He's my guard dog," she jokes, even though the tiny mutt hasn't shown much bark or bite. "He has an active tail and lets me know when someone is coming. That should be enough, don't you think? A little wag of the tail?" [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010]

It's a lot to ask of one woman: rejuvenate her banned party, persuade the generals to talk, make the cause of Burma a global priority, minister to the sick, comfort the families of political prisoners. Serving as an icon of democracy is hard enough, without having to deal with the nitty-gritty of everyday political life. Add to that the real worry that Suu Kyi may be operating on borrowed time. "Our people are in and out of prison all the time," she says. "All I have to say is, 'Is so-and-so in or out?' and they know exactly what I mean."

Beyond the possibility of rearrest, Suu Kyi's safety is an even more fundamental concern. "She is like her father in that she has no qualms about losing her life," says Win Htein, an NLD elder who was released in July after 14 years in jail. Suu Kyi gasps when I ask her whether she would consider wearing a bulletproof vest. "I wouldn't dream of it," she says. "Then it would look like I'm trying to protect myself from the people who support me."

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, A few days after she was freed, Aung San Suu Kyi visited a shelter on the outskirts of Rangoon for H.I.V.-AIDS patients, run by the N.L.D. The shelter, which currently houses eighty-two men, women, and children, provides antiretroviral drugs, donated by N.G.O.s, and inpatient care to mostly up-country people who can’t find treatment in their towns and villages. The shelter has provoked the ire of the regime, which sees it as a means for the opposition to bolster its support by offering an alternative to government services. “The patients say they are treated like human beings, that they are given compassion there,” Aung San Suu Kyi told me. She spent two hours at the shelter, handing out flowers and talking with patients. The next day, neighborhood officials refused to extend the residential permits that the patients are required to reapply for, and made plans to close the facility. “Perhaps they thought they should show how strong they were and deal with this in a very stern way,” she said. The N.L.D. alerted the international press; a week later, officials withdrew the order. Aung San Suu Kyi said she still wasn’t sure whether the threats against the shelter came from the military dictatorship or originated at the local level. She called the outcome “a happy solution.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011 /\]

“Her biggest frustration, she said, was that she had not found time to meditate, an integral part of her daily routine since she was placed under house arrest for the first time, in 1989. In captivity, she had practiced vipasanna meditation, an ancient technique attributed to the Gautama Buddha. At first, she said, “I found it very difficult to do, because my mind was wandering, instead of being fixed on one particular place—your breathing, the rising and falling of your abdomen. I got frustrated, thinking, My goodness, can’t I do even this little mind exercise? But, with persistence, you get there.” /\

Associated Press reported: “After the years of isolation, Suu Kyi is catching up with movies and the digital revolution, watching DVDs at home, she said, adding that she favors the films of actors she knew from her old moviegoing days, several decades ago.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the 2010 Elections and Challenges in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi was told she couldn’t run in the November 2010 elections because she married a foreigner. She was even barred from voting. When the electoral rolls were posted two months before the election her name wasn’t on it. An official said that her name was not on the list because serving prisoners do not have the right to vote. Shortly after that government officials said she could vote in the poll. The official said, “Aung San Suu Kyi and her two live-in maids will get the right to vote.”

In March 2010, Myanmar’s state-run newspapers published election laws, which banned Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part in the election. In May her party, the National League for Democracy Party in Burma, was banned.

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “As the economies of China, Thailand, India, and other Asian neighbors grow rapidly, Myanmar’s remains stagnant. The education and health-care systems are in tatters; many young Burmese dream of escaping overseas. Aung San Suu Kyi told me that people needed to be patient. “We have a saying in Burmese: ‘People cannot wait until the end,’ ” she said. “They are always ready to criticize before we get where we want to be, especially if we don’t get there fast enough.” I asked her whether she felt excited to be out in public after living in a vacuum for so long. She smiled. “After years of meditation, I think you remain very much on an even keel. There is not too much difference to you mentally whether you’ve been released or not,” she said. “But physically it is very tiring.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

Aung San Suu Kyi and Her Party After her Release in November 2010

Joshua Hammer wrote: Aung San Suu Kyi now spends much of her time at N.L.D. headquarters, meeting with party members, ethnic leaders, and senior aides. The regime dissolved the party after the N.L.D.’s decision, in March, not to participate in the election because of “unjust” electoral laws. These included the banning of candidates with religious affiliations as well as those with criminal records, which eliminated all monks and hundreds of party members who have been political prisoners. Lawyers are preparing a court case to reconstitute the party. In the meantime, large crowds still gather at Aung San Suu Kyi’s public appearances, and the dictatorship closely tracks her movements, watching anyone who comes into contact with her. Half a dozen agents of the dictatorship’s intelligence division, wearing earphones and carrying digital cameras, lingered in a tea stall across the street while I interviewed her. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

“On a steamy evening at the beginning of the rainy season, a crowd of 10,000 packs the street outside the National League for Democracy headquarters in downtown Yangon. Volunteers pass out bottled water in the oppressive heat, while a Burmese vaudeville team performs folk dances on a red carpet. This headquarters, a crucible of opposition to Myanmar’s military junta until it was forced to shut down nearly a decade ago, is about to reopen in a lavish ceremony. At 6 p.m., a white sport utility vehicle pulls up, and Aung San Suu Kyi emerges to a jubilant roar. “Amay Suu”—Mother Suu—chant thousands in the throng. Radiant in an indigo dress, white roses in her hair, The Lady pushes through supporters and cuts a ribbon with a pair of golden scissors [Source: Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian magazine, September 2012 ^^]

Suddenly, in the midst of the crush, she is standing before me, exuding not only rock-star magnetism, but also an indefinable serenity. Even in the press and tumult of the crowd, it’s as if the scene stands still. Standing ramrod straight, reaching out over admirers and bodyguards to clasp my hand, she speaks to me in a soft, clear voice....Aung San Suu Kyi is reminding supporters that the struggle is far from over. Standing on the third-floor balcony of the tenement, festooned with yellow, white and red NLD banners, she tells them that the Yangon police have been bullying street vendors and urges “mutual respect” between the authorities and the people. Then she turns her attention to the crisis of the moment: crippling electricity cuts across Myanmar, the result of rotting infrastructure and the selling of most of the country’s hydroelectric power and gas to China and Thailand. As if on cue, the downtown lights go out. Enveloped in darkness, the opposition leader, again invoking the Buddhist spirit of nonviolent protest, urges the crowd to “light a candle.” The street is soon transformed into a sea of tiny, flickering flames. ^^

Steve Finch and John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post, “Although her party boycotted the vote, she said she would be willing to work within Burma's new parliamentary framework if the government gives opposition forces sufficient voice in the political structure. "We have got to be able to talk to each other," Suu Kyi told The Washington Post in a spare office at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy. "I think, firstly, we have to start talking affably - real genuine talks, not just have some more tea or this or that." [Source: Steve Finch and John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 15, 2010]

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Post-Release Tour of Myanmar in July and August 2011

In July 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi visited various locations around Myanmar in her first travels after her release for house arrest in November 2010. Before she set off the Myanmar government warned her to curb her political activities. The Wall Street Journal reported: “A commentary published in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a government mouthpiece, accused her followers of planning to "exploit the public" during her upcoming tour and warned "there may be chaos and riots, as evidenced by previous incidents" if she follows through with the plan. The commentary also criticized her political organization, the National League for Democracy, for continuing to "test the patience of the government" by conducting political activities even though it was disbanded by the government last year. "They should stop doing so to avert unnecessary consequences," the commentary said. [Source: Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2011]

Reporting from Pagan, Hla Hla Htay wrote in AFP, “Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi drew large crowds on a landmark trip to rural Myanmar that tested her freedom, but experts say the regime will tolerate her activities only up to a point. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was trailed by plain clothes police but allowed to travel unhindered as she avoided making public speeches on the low-key four-day excursion to the ancient city of Bagan and nearby villages. Observers warned that a full political tour, if it goes ahead, could still trigger a confrontation with the new army-backed government. [Source: Hla Hla Htay, AFP, July 8, 2011 ><]

“Suu Kyi refrained from any overtly political activities that might have antagonised the regime during her first trip outside the main city of Yangon since she was freed by the junta from house arrest. "We had a break but did not rest," her youngest son Kim Aris, a British national who accompanied his mother on the trip, told AFP. "There were too many people everywhere, but you can't get away from that." ><

“Suu Kyi, 66, signed autographs and posed for pictures as she visited temples, markets and souvenir shops in and around Bagan, one of the top tourist destinations in Myanmar, also known as Burma. As word spread that the softly-spoken but indomitable opposition leader was nearby, hundreds of supporters gathered to catch a glimpse, some weeping with joy and others shouting: "Mother Suu, may you be in good health!" The crowds that she attracted, while much smaller than those seen when she last travelled in 2002 and 2003, were a reminder of her enduring popularity among many Burmese, despite a long absence from public view. "I dropped what I was doing at home when I heard she was coming. I had to meet her in person," 54-year-old housewife Nwe Nwe said while waiting to greet Suu Kyi in front of a lacquerware workshop in Bagan. ><

“The dissident's National League for Democracy (NLD) party sent many of its own members to Bagan this week to protect her, one of the party's private security personnel told AFP on condition of anonymity. "We think the authorities also took care of the security. They asked local people not to do this and that," he said. Some observers think the new government would have no qualms about limiting Suu Kyi's freedom again if she is perceived as a threat. "I think they would quite quickly restrict her movements if she did something that gave them a pretext," said Wilson. ><

Associated Press reported: “Thousands of well-wishers lined roadsides in Burma to welcome the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she tested the limits of her freedom by taking her first political trip into the countryside since being released from house arrest. On Sunday, Aung San Suu Kyi opened public libraries in Bago, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Rangoon, and in the nearby town of Thanatpin, where she gave a 10-minute speech calling for unity and asking people to continue to support her political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). She urged the crowd of hundreds to persevere despite economic hardships that have forced many to seek jobs abroad. She made a similar speech in Bago, implying that true democratic change would take time. "I know what the people want and I am trying my best to fulfil the wishes of the people," she said. "However, I don't want to give false hope." In Bago, during a visit to a pagoda, crowds shouted: "Long live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!" Ma Thuza, a 35-year-old woman watching the scene, said: "I can die happily now that I've seen her." [Source: Associated Press, August 14, 2011 ~]

“Aung San Suu Kyi travelled in a three-car convoy followed by about 27 more vehicles – filled mostly with journalists and supporters. Security agents, with wireless microphones protruding from their civilian clothes, monitored each stop she made. Thousands of people lined the roadsides to catch a glimpse of her convoy as it passed by, some cheering and waving. The Nobel laureate stopped several times, and well-wishers handed her red roses and jasmine flowers. Win Htein, an NLD leader, said the trip was crucial because it "will test the reaction of the authorities and will test the response of the people". ~

Aung San Suu Kyi Meets Myanmar President Thein Sein in August 2011

In August 2011, Reuters reported: “Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi met President Thein Sein on Friday, a government source said, the first meeting between the two and the latest olive branch from the army-backed regime. Aung San Suu Kyi flew to the capital, Naypyitaw, to meet Thein Sein, formerly a top general in the military regime. They met at the presidential palace, a senior official said, giving no details of the nature of the discussion but adding it was only a short meeting. It was the first visit by Aung San Suu Kyi to Naypyitaw. [Source: Reuters, August 19, 2011 ++]

Thein Sein, who took office in March 2011, is regarded as one of the more moderate members of a new government that contains hardliners opposed to engagement with Aung San Suu Kyi. Thein Sein said when he met Suu Kyi he asked her to "set aside (their) differences and work on common ground." "For the welfare of the country, let's work together," Thein Sein told Suu Kyi. He said Suu Kyi accepted his request.

There have been other signs of change in recent weeks. Thein Sein called for several armed ethnic rebel groups to hold peace talks with the government to end decades of hostilities. The government has also invited the International Monetary Fund to look at possible reforms to its currency system and a series of meetings have taken place between senior government officials and western delegations. Most analysts believe the openness being shown by Burma's leaders is aimed in part at improving their image abroad with a view to ending decades of western sanctions and consolidating power at home. ++

Aung San Suu Kyi told the Washington Post: “My meeting with the president went well, and I believe he sincerely wants reform. But he is not the only one in government. Our present constitution gives the military far too much power. Although the president is the head of state, he is not necessarily the highest power in the land. The commander in chief can take over all powers of government at any time he feels it to be necessary. That must be very difficult if you are in the position in which our president is. I don’t know how much support he has within the army. He himself is an army man, so I assume there must be considerable support for him in military circles. But that is just an assumption. I think the president is genuine about reform. I think there are those who support him in the government. Whether all people support him, I can’t answer. [Source: Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 20, 2012 =]

Washington Post: I understand that when you met with President Thein Sein last summer, he had your father’s picture prominently displayed. Were you surprised when you walked in? Aung San Suu Kyi: I was, yes. I had not expected it. My father’s picture was in the center. Washington Post: Did you and the president decide you could work together? I felt I could work with him, and I hope he felt he could work with me. =

Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times: Aung San Suu Kyi “said it was Mr. Thein Sein’s sincerity about reform that persuaded her to re-enter politics in 2011. That decision was a turning point for the president, not only winning him support at home, but also moving him closer to the United States, the champion of international sanctions. Within days of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s declaration, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to Myanmar, becoming the highest-ranking American to visit the country in half a century. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, April 3, 2012]

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “But no amount of rhetoric would earn the government credibility in Burma or abroad unless it could secure the blessing of Suu Kyi. Less obvious was just how much Suu Kyi stood to gain from an alliance. After more than two decades of dissent, she was internationally renowned but not yet an active participant in the proposed reforms. In boycotting the 2010 election, her party, the National League for Democracy, had frustrated young activists, and she was at risk of becoming sainted but peripheral. For the first time in decades, all sides had a reason to find a way out of the impasse. After an exchange of secret messages, the President met Suu Kyi for dinner last August, and when she returned home she told Tin Oo, the deputy leader of the N.L.D., “I have the feeling that I can work with him.” Her endorsement was a turning point. The world took notice, and the President cleared the way for Suu Kyi’s supporters to register as a political party and for former political prisoners to run for office. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012 *-*]

When asked if she thought Thein Sein was sort of a Gorbachev, Suu Kyi wold the Washington Post, “ No, because Gorbachev came into power gradually through the ranks, and he had his grip on power quite firmly before he started going towards reform. Thein Sein is in a rather different situation. I think very few people expected him to become head of state. He was not the highest-ranking member in the military government under Gen. [Than] Shwe...He is respected in the army, that we know. He is one of the few members of the previous regime who is considered by all to be clean. Not only he, but his family as well, and that is unusual. [Source: Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 20, 2012]

U.S. envoy to Myanmar, Kurt M. Campbell wrote in Foreign Policy, “The most unlikely of political partners are driving the astonishing democratic transition in Burma. One of them is no surprise: Aung San Suu Kyi, the inspirational global icon who for recent generations has defined nonviolent struggle against oppression. The other, President Thein Sein, is an unassuming former general who rose to the senior ranks of the very military junta seen as responsible for Burma's decades of misery, but then had the courage to steer the country in a new direction. Neither sought this unusual pairing, but together they represent the most hopeful turn for Burma in half a century.[Source: Kurt M. Campbell, Foreign Policy, December 2012 \/]

“Their relationship began with a dinner in the spring of 2011 prepared by Thein Sein's wife in the couple's modest home and presented under a painting of Aung San, Burma's revered independence leader and the father of Aung San Suu Kyi. Warily, tentatively, the two compared shared hopes for the country's rebirth. That first meeting set the stage for the breathtaking changes in Burma following the retirement in 2011 of the junta's geriatric strongman, Than Shwe. \/

“Sustaining reform's momentum will be difficult. Much will depend on getting others to follow the courageous example of Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein in setting aside bitter enmities and deep distrust for the common good. Their shared stake in a better future led both leaders to take off a uniform -- she the mantle of international sainthood and he the insignia of the military institution that brought him to absolute power. Having done so, they can now meet on equal terms, as citizen and patriot, striving and struggling together for a new Burma. Along the way, they are inspiring us all. \/

Later Aung San Suu Kyi told the World Economic Forum: "I do believe in the sincerity of the president when he speaks of his commitment to reform. But I also recognize that he's not the only person in government. And, as I keep repeating, there's the military to be reckoned with."

Aung San Suu Kyi Meets Hillary Clinton in December 2011

In December 2011, Reuters reported: “Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, have made an unprecedented public vow to work together to promote democratic reforms in the isolated and repressive south Asian state. Ending a historic three-day visit to Burma, the first by a US secretary of state in more than 50 years, Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi held hands on the porch of the lakeside home where the campaigner has spent much of the past two decades under house arrest. "If we move forward together I am confident there will be no turning back on the road to democracy," Aung San Suu Kyi said. "We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with the help and understanding of our friends." [Source: Jason Burke. Sara Olsen, agencies, The Guardian, December 2, 2011 ==]

“Clinton's visit follows a series of tentative reforms by Burma's new nominally civilian government. In the last year media restrictions have been loosened, some political prisoners released and elections held. The polls were heavily rigged to give the party backed by the army a massive majority and were boycotted by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. ==

“Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi spent three hours dining together at the residence of the American charge d'affaires in Rangoon. One senior US official said the event marked the beginning of what appeared to be a "very warm friendship" between the two women. In a 90-minute meeting, the US secretary of state praised the Burmese pro-democracy leader's leadership. ==

Sweaters Knit by Myanmar's Suu Kyi Sell for $123,000

In December 2012, Aye Aye Win of Associated Press wrote: “Myanmar's cash-strapped opposition party is tapping into the prestige of its leader: Two sweaters hand-knit by Aung San Suu Kyi have been auctioned for $123,000. A green-and-white sweater with a floral design sold at an auction to an anonymous bidder for 63 million kyat, or $74,120. A day earlier a Myanmar-based radio station won a bidding war for a multicolored V-neck that fetched $49,000. "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is satisfied with the auction and the donations received," close aide Ko Ni said Saturday. "She needs a lot of cash to carry out projects for the welfare of the people." [Source: Aye Aye Win, AP, December 28, 2012 #]

“The auction was part of a fundraising event organized by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party to raise money for education of poor children and health projects in Myanmar. Both sweaters were knitted by Suu Kyi at least 25 years ago when she was living in England and raising her two children, Ko Ni told The Associated Press. "She made them when she was busy working, studying and taking care of her children," Ko Ni said. "She wants to send the message that people should not stay idle but be diligent." Ahead of the auction, Suu Kyi asked her brother-in-law in England to ship some of her personal belongings, which arrived in nine boxes on Wednesday just in time for the auction, Ko Ni said. #

“The proud new owner of the $49,000 red, green and blue V-neck sold Thursday said it was worth the money. "It is priceless because the sweater was made my 'Amay' herself," said Daw Nan Mauk Lao Sai, chairwoman of Shwe FM radio station. "I bought the sweater because I value the warmth and security it will give," she said, adding that she plans to hang it up in the station's office for the whole staff to see.” #

Aung San Suu Kyi T-Shirts Sell Well in Yangon

Before Aung San Suu Kyi’s Kyi's release from house arrest in November 2010, photographs of her were rarely permitted in newspapers and magazines. Now they are to be seen on almost every front page, along with posters, calendars, T-shirts and keyrings sold openly on the street.

After Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, Suu Kyi paraphernalia proliferated with vendors hawking photographs, key chains and calendars with her image. In March 2012, “AFP reported: “If roaring sales of his Aung San Suu Kyi T-shirts are a yardstick, then business man Swe Yie thinks Myanmar’s tentative steps to democracy are on the right track. The father-of-two is struggling to keep up with demand for his shirts bearing the images of the Nobel laureate and her revered late father General Aung San in recent weeks as the regime eases its iron grip on the nation. “Before, you wouldn’t even dare talk about ‘The Lady’ much less openly sell any merchandise that would be associated with her,” Swe Yie said at his shop. “These shirts are our best sellers now,” the 56-year-old told AFP. [Source: AFP, March 17, 2012 ~~]

“The low-quality garments fetch about one or two dollars apiece, and at a print run of more than 3,000 a day, Swe Yie said it was fair to say he could dream of running a business empire soon. His success is all the more surprising because his tiny shop is located just meters (feet) away from the nearest police station, in a country where the authorities previously crushed any sign of political dissent. ~~

“The dissident’s face also is often seen on T-shirts worn by people among the crowds of supporters who have greeted her on the campaign trail. It is part of a boom in sales of Aung San Suu Kyi memorabilia, including posters and keyrings. Portraits of the opposition leader are prominently displayed in tea shops, restaurants and on the sidewalks. Illegal copies of Luc Besson’s “The Lady”, a two-hour biopic about the pro-democracy icon’s private life, have also flooded the streets of Yangon as vendors push the boundaries of new-found freedoms. ~~

“In the main city of Yangon, more tourists can be seen on the streets, nearly all the hotels are fully booked, and people are becoming less afraid of discussing politics in public. “There are many, many reforms needed, but at least there seem to be some small steps,” Swe Yie said. “I feel it is easier to make a living now in these changing times. Life remains difficult in a lot of ways, but we have a chance now. I call sell openly without fear of being arrested,” he added. “I hope one day everyone in Myanmar will be able to live comfortably, free to work and choose what they want to do in life. My country is very poor, but I hope we will become rich like other countries.” ~~

“The Lady”: Film with Michelle Yeoh Playing Aung San Suu Kyi

“The Lady” (2011) is a film about Aung San Suu Kyi as she becomes the center of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, and her relationship with her husband, the Oxford academic and Tibet scholar Michael Aris. Directed by Luc Besson, it stars Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi. According to IMDB: “ “The Lady”is an epic love story about how an extraordinary couple and family sacrifice their happiness at great human cost for a higher cause...Despite distance, long separations, and a dangerously hostile regime, their love endures until the very end. A story of devotion and human understanding set against a background of political turmoil, “The Lady” also is the story of the peaceful quest of the woman who is at the core of Burma's democracy movement. At on point, Giuseppe Tornatore was considered to direct the movie. [Source: IMBD]

The film is titled The Lady after Aung San Suu Kyi's nickname in Burma. It , focuses heavily on the personal sacrifices she made. Aris is played the British actor David Thewlis. Parts of the film were shot in France and Britain. Other parst were shot in Thailand, where Aung San Suu Kyi’s house was recreated. The actors in the scenes set in Myanmar were mostly Burmese and Thais and the film crew was largely Thai. The actor who plays Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, really looks like her father. He's a Burmese from the north of Thailand and was honoured to play Aung San. In one scene set in 1947, Burmese soldiers are shown carrying AK-47s. The production of the assault rifle AK-47 began in 1949.

Thanyarat Doksone of Associated Press wrote: “Michelle Yeoh remembers her pride as a Southeast Asian youth when Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Suu Kyi "was fighting for democracy in a nonviolent way, where passion was the armor and love for liberty was the weapon," Yeoh told The Associated Press. "I've been in the business long enough to recognize what an amazing story that she has that we can tell," she said. "If anybody should play her, it's me." The 49-year-old Yeoh said Suu Kyi is a "very big hero" of hers and she was keen to play her as soon as she heard a film was being made about the life of the 1991 Nobel recipient. [Source: Thanyarat Doksone, Associated Press, February 1, 2012 ++]

Yeoh recalled watching news coverage of Suu Kyi's 2010 release along with director Besson, the other lead actors, and Suu Kyi's son, Kim Aris. She said she played the identical scene of Suu Kyi coming up the gate and waving at the crowd earlier that morning. "We were so crazily happy that finally ... she was freed," she said. ++

Yeoh traveled to Myanmar and met Suu Kyi in December 2010. "I was extremely nervous because I was afraid she would look at me and go 'Whoa, my god, why are you portraying me?'" she said. "But when she was in front of me, all she did was she open her arms, (and) welcome me like a family member." "She's one of those people that you meet and you'll never forget," Yeoh said. Yeoh's enthusiasm for the cinematic Suu Kyi is not entirely requited. Suu Kyi said in an interview at her Yangon home last month that she doesn't plan to see the movie. "I don't really like seeing films which are supposed to be about me," she said. ++

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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.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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