BANGKOK, Dec 20 (IPS) – In the Christmas of 2001, rock icon Bono of the hugely popular Irish band U2 wrote ‘Walk On’ for Burma’s top dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. ”You could have flown away – a singing bird in an open cage who will only fly, only fly for freedom,” he sang.
Three years later, Suu Kyi is still a prisoner in Burma – under house detention by the junta that ironically calls itself the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC. And this Christmas, which falls on Saturday, will see her still trapped in that not so-gilded cage.
”Suu Kyi, with an idea too big for any jail and a spirit too strong for any army, changes our view – as only real heroes can – of what we believe to be possible,” said Bono recently. ”She needs unwavering, uncompromising international support – as tough and determined as she herself is.”
But Suu Kyi’s strong spirit will be put to the test in 2005 with grave concerns for her safety under house detention that was extended by the Burmese junta, last month, by a year.
Late last week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was ”seriously concerned” to hear the junta had cut Suu Kyi’s personal security and placed restrictions on access to her doctor.
The secretary general ”reminds the Myanmar (Burmese) authorities of their responsibility to ensure Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s security and well-being,” Annan said in a statement.
U.S.. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also expressed Washington’s concern.
Suu Kyi’s personal security members at her home in the capital, Rangoon, has been cut to six from 13 and visits from her doctor slashed from three a week to one, her National League for Democracy (NLD) said in a statement.
Suu Kyi underwent surgery in September last year, which her doctor said was related to gynecological and other unspecified conditions.
The NLD, said that following the reduction of her personal security only two women now remained with her to help with household tasks. Previously, 13 youth members of the party had been allowed to guard their leader.
The pro-democracy leader began her latest period under house arrest on May 30, 2003, following a violent clash between her supporters and a pro-junta mob at the Depayin township in northern Burma.
It is Suu Kyi’s third period of house arrest since she took up the democracy struggle in 1988. In 1991, the NLD leader was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.
Her NLD won the 1990 election in a landslide but the military junta refused to recognise the result. Today the party is not even authorised to have a fax machine.
Suu Kyi is the daughter of one of Burma’s most cherished heroes, the martyred Gen. Aung San who led his country’s fight for independence from the British in 1940s and was killed for his political beliefs in 1947.
But Debbie Stothard of the lobby group ALTSEAN Burma is confident the pro-democracy leader would not buckle under the prolonged pressure of house arrest.
”Daw Suu Kyi has already gone through the worst with the death of her husband Michael Aris. That was the darkest moment in her life and she’s overcome that,” said Stothard in an interview with IPS.
”It’s a wait-and-see game,” she added. ”Her supporters know that each time she’s released from detention she comes out stronger. She’s got amazing resilience and we’ve seen that twice.”
In 1999, a terminally ill Aris tried to visit his wife to say goodbye. The regime, however, brutal as it were, denied him entry and suggested Suu Kyi visit him and her two children in Britain instead. Knowing that if she left Burma she would never be allowed to return, she stayed put and never saw her husband again
The day Aris died, on his 53rd birthday on Mar. 27, 1999, Suu Kyi honoured the occasion at her home in Rangoon, with friends and supporters, including high-ranking diplomats from Europe and the United States.
As part of the ceremony, she offered food and saffron robes to Buddhist monks who recited prayers and chanted sutras. According to close friends, Suu Kyi cried when one of the monks told those gathered that the essence of Buddhism is to treat suffering with equanimity. And this was the first time, they said, they had seen her shed tears in public.
The prognosis for Burma in the coming new year is bleak according to ALTSEAN.
The Depayin attack on Suu Kyi’s convoy was the violent launch of a nationwide crackdown on all pro-democracy groups, said the group in a report.
By the end of February 2004, an estimated 265 people had been arrested, disappeared, or killed either during the Depayin attack or as part of the subsequent crackdown.
”Among those arrested were many of the leaders of the NLD party. After May 30, 2003, the SPDC shut down most NLD offices throughout the country, with the hardline generals stating that the NLD headquarters would remain closed ‘until the present problem is solved’,” said the ALTSEAN report.
In the latest round of arrests, 13 NLD members were picked up just days before Burma’s junta freed more than 5,000 prisoners last week.
On Dec. 14, NLD Secretary U Lwin told foreign reporters those 13 party officials in Bogalay Township, southwest of Rangoon, were detained on Dec. 6 for organising a National Day ceremony even though the event did not take place.
”2005 will be a year of uncertainty for Burma with the hardliners now in control of the country and the regime being insensitive to outside pressure,” Stothard pointed out. ”There’s space, now, in the jails with the mass release of prisoners, so we can expect more NLD people to be arrested.”
On Oct. 19, hardliners led by Senior General Than Shwe took control of Burma by sacking Prime Minister Khin Nyunt.
Khin Nyunt’s departure is seen by many observers as a setback to free Suu Kyi and to put Burma on the road to democracy as he was willing to discuss the pro-democracy leader’s release from house arrest and also outlined a ”seven point roadmap” for change last August.
”The October purge is serious in the sense that it has thrust the hard-line generals into the highest positions of power. These generals are tough on pro-democracy groups and Gen. Than Shwe’s dislike of Aung San Suu Kyi is widely known,” said Aung Naing Oo, research associate with the Washington-based Burma Fund.
In the meantime, U2’s support for Suu Kyi means that all their albums are banned in Burma and anyone found with a copy faces 20 years in jail. (END/2004)
“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-south relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelonaâ€™s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio