This country’s most famous person, democratic leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for 5 years.
The house that is her prison is a large two-story white colonial overlooking Inya Lake, near Yangon University. It is one of three houses on a compound surrounded by a green and yellow fence and numerous palm and coconut trees. Soldiers in green uniforms patrol the yard.
The military government allows Suu Kyi one daily visitor, a maid who helps clean the house and shops for food. Her husband, Michael Aris, an Oxford professor who lives in London with their two sons, was allowed to visit during the Christmas holidays.
No one knows what may happen later this week, when Suu Kyi’s term of house arrest is scheduled to end, but there is more hope now than ever that she might be released.
That hope is based on growing pressures from the outside world, on statements at embassy gatherings by members of Burma’s military junta, on a softening attitude in the official press and on the recent opening of discussions between Suu Kyi and the officers who hold her prisoner.
One Western analyst here says the junta has “raised expectations so much that if they don’t release her or greatly improve the terms of her confinement, it’ll be a big public-relations step backwards.”
Suu Kyi, 47, has come to symbolize the fight for democracy in Burma. She headed the 1988 pro-democracy uprising that the military brutally suppressed. Two years later, when her National League for Democracy scored a landslide election victory - winning 84 percent of the vote - the junta refused to recognize the election and, in July 1989, put her under house arrest.
She has never been charged or tried. A spokesman for the junta, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or the SLORC, has said her crime was attempting to “destroy the military and revive anarchy in the country,” an apparent reference to the democracy movement for which she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
The Nobel citation said: “She became the leader of a democratic opposition which employs non-violent means to resist a regime characterized by brutality.”
Last month, a U.N. committee passed a resolution calling for Suu Kyi’s unconditional and immediate release. The resolution also urged the junta to restore democracy “in accordance with the will of the people as expressed in the democratic elections held in 1990.”
The resolution may be one incentive to the military to release Suu Kyi. A more important one, according to one analyst here, is that the SLORC wants to “end Burma’s isolation” and develop its economy through trade. “The house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi is recognized as the single biggest obstacle to ending isolation from the world,” the analyst said.
Mainly because of U.S. opposition, Burma hasn’t been able to get loans from the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.