Suu Kyi freed by Burmese junta, let’s take a moment to rejoice
On Saturday’s (Nov. 13), following a day of negotiations, Burma’s military junta unconditionally released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after seven years under house arrest.
The 65-year-old noble peace laureate has been either in jail or under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years that she’s been in Burma (renamed Mayanmar by it’s current regime) and is a worldwide symbol of Burmese peoples’ decades long struggle to rid the country of it’s oppressive military rule.
Her release comes a week after a junta-backed party won Burma’s first election in 20 years. The election was a sham orchestrated by the military that’s held on to power in the country for the last half-century. Back in 1990, when the South Asian nation had it’s last open elections Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (since forcefully disbanded), won a landslide victory that the junta never honored. Instead, the election was nullified and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest.
But no matter how hard the junta has tried to gain legitimacy over these two decades, for most Burmese and, dare I say, for much of the world (barring some exceptions like China, North Korea and India), The Lady, as she’s lovingly known, is the one true leader of Burma. One can’t help but be awed by her grace and fortitude in face of such prolonged persecution. Even President Obama, while welcoming her “long overdue” release yesterday called her “a hero of mine”.
But it’s not clear how much freedom Suu Kyi will actually have or what political role she will play in a country that the junta still has in a stranglehold.
Human rights groups say there are at least another 2,200 political prisoners languishing in Burma’s prisons. The rigged elections have led to renewed fighting between the Burmese military and ethnic Karen rebels, sending about 20,000 Karen refugees fleeing across the border into Thailand on November 8 (most of who were shipped back to Burma by Thai authorities within a few days).
One of Burma’s main ethnic minorities, Karen rebels have long sought to gain independence from Burma’s military regime. Thailand is already sheltering a quarter-million refugees from what human rights groups describe as “brutal campaigns” by the junta to drive the Karen people from their territories.
Suu Kyi’s release is probably an attempt by Burma’s army generals at playing nice in hopes having Western sanctions against the country lifted and perhaps also at diverting attention from the Karen issue.
But honestly, right now, it’s enough for me that Suu Kyi is free to mingle with her people. Her very presence holds out hope for peace and freedom in an oppressed nation.
For the moment, the people of Burma are rejoicing. And so am I.
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