Aung San Suu Kyi: No release yet | Editorial

The world's most famous political prisoner is unlikely to buckle to the Burmese junta's demands after 15 years' house arrest

There is every indication that even after keeping her confined in her mildewing, two-storey villa for 15 years, the Burmese junta still regard Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's most famous political prisoner, as a potent threat. Her house arrest is due to expire today, and there were rumours yesterday that the order for her release had been signed.

Each of her previous spells of freedom have been brief since she was first detained in 1989, as she challenged restrictions which prevented her from leaving Rangoon. And there was no sign yesterday, her lawyer U Nyan Win said, that she would accept any conditions on her release. Aung San Suu Kyi is first and foremost a politician, and one who has sacrificed the best years of her life for the cause of bringing democracy back to her country. She is hardly likely to buckle to the generals' demands now.

For its part, the junta has held elections in which voters were frogmarched to the polling booths, and many others stayed away. The army's proxy party now controls 80% of the parliamentary seats, although some independents are also in. But parliament has yet to sit, a president chosen and a government formed. The transition to a nominal civilian government is incomplete. So it is an open question whether the generals would allow the daughter of Burma's independence hero to derail their best-laid plans by holding rallies. Even less would it do so for a party which is now seen to be illegal because it boycotted the election. If a cyclone which killed 138,000 people was not enough to prevent the holding of a constitutional referendum (the first stage in the process), why would one individual be allowed to disrupt things now?

The calculation, however, is not straightforward. There are geopolitics to events unfolding at the barriers to the road leading to the crumbling villa. If Aung San Suu Kyi was to be released unconditionally, one of the demands of the sanction-imposing nations would be met. With the US switching its policy towards pragmatic engagement, her release could eventually lead to the return of western investment.

This could be used by Burma to balance its overwhelming reliance on China, which uses it not only as a pot of natural gas, teak, rubies, gold, copper, and iron, but as a strategic corridor to the Indian Ocean. Some Chinese investments have been far from popular. Most of the power generated by the Myitsone dam in Kachin state will be consumed in China, and this is in a country with widespread blackouts. The generals should see Aung San Suu Kyi's release more as an opportunity than a threat, but the truth is that they are unlikely to. On past form, her freedom will be fleeting.


The GuardianTramp

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