Thanks to D’Arcy for sending along this story on Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and road trip.
A Burma activist holds a poster of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Pic: AP.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s road trip: Why she may be safer than ever
By Francis Wade Jun 09, 2011 Asian Correspondent.com
With preparations under way for Aung San Suu Kyi’s first trip outside of Rangoon in nearly a decade, much of the talk has rightly focused on her safety. Her last tour of Burma in 2003, before she was condemned to another spell under house arrest, came to a bloody end when her convoy was set upon by junta-backed thugs near the town of Depayin, who beat around 70 of her supporters to death – eye-witness accounts from the incident make it clear that she was the intended target. She had another close shave in 1989 when, during campaigning for elections the following year, she confronted an army unit who were under orders to point their rifles at her.
With those two incidents still very fresh in the minds of her supporters, Suu Kyi’s talk of her countrywide tour this month has been accompanied by intense speculation about whether we’ll witness another Depayin. Despite government pledges that it is on the road to reform, the forces that plotted the Depayin massacre still pull the strings in Naypyidaw, and are still very capable of resorting to aggression in order to stem any movement toward democratic rule.
But in some key respects, as far as Suu Kyi’s safety is concerned anyway, Burma is a different place to 1989 and 2003 – or at least the new government is trying to portray it as such. Her release from house arrest in November last year was the pièce de resistance of the government’s carefully choreographed PR campaign designed to spin Burma as a country transitioning to civilian rule. And entirely against her own will, it was Suu Kyi who became the poster girl of that campaign when she was reintroduced to the world last year as a symbol of the ‘new’ Burma.
It is something she has rallied hard against since her release, but not altogether successfully (note top UN official Vijay Nambiar’s recent statement that “very encouraging signs” are coming from the new government, or the EU’s praise for the “greater civilian character” of the government). But what it does mean is that if Suu Kyi were to be harmed, then the pretense of democratic reform that has won the government these plaudits would crumble.
This evaluation of course has its gaping holes, not least because it doesn’t factor in the absolute sadism of the people that rule Burma. On many occasions they have shot themselves in the foot in their hunger to hold onto power, foregoing opportunities to end crises via peaceful means in order to publicly reaffirm their position at the top.
One sincerely hopes that this is not an overly optimistic reading of events, but it would be difficult to see how the new government would benefit from eliminating her, given that the continued applause for her nominal freedom appears to be silencing her attempts to denounce this charade.