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The Nation-Burmese icon suffers ind

Subject: The Nation-Burmese icon suffers indignity of dissent 

The Nation - May 5, 1999.
Editorial & Opinion

Burmese icon suffers indignity of dissent

After almost 10 years of resistance and nothing much to show for it, Aung
San Suu Kyi is coming under increasing criticism, writes Juergen Dauth.

AUNG San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's opposition party, winner of its
cancelled elections in 1990 with over 90 per cent of the vote, and recipient
of a Nobel Peace Prize, is used to being pilloried and humiliated by the
country's ruling military junta.

Now, however, she is also facing the added indignity of criticism from her
own ranks and, more damagingly, for opinion outside the tightly controlled
country, from diplomats.

''Of course, she is a remarkable woman,'' said one European emissary, in
what is a fairly typical comment in the diplomatic community in the Burmese
capital Rangoon. ''But to put it bluntly, she has lost the battle -- the
junta has won.'' Another diplomat remarked: ''If she is as clever as her
reputation suggests, why hasn't she managed to outfox the junta yet?''

Frustration now reigns among diplomats and opposition figures alike. They
are worried that the political process is stagnating and Suu Kyi is unable
to provide the impulse for movement towards the country's long hoped-for
democratisation. ''She has become too intractable,'' said one American
trader based in Rangoon, whose business has suffered greatly under the trade
embargo imposed by the West.

''The country is not getting anywhere under her insistence on Burma's
political isolation. The poor are just getting poor,'' warned a diplomat
from the Asean group, which includes Burma.

He is convinced that her policy of intransigence will one day backfire for
the opposition movement. Suu Kyi is simply not in the running as a mediator,
according to diplomats who are regularly in contact with the daughter of
Burma's founding father, Aung San.

''She is often off-hand and occasionally insulting,'' explained one envoy.
''Her attacks on the junta are of little substance and do nothing to solve
the country's problems.''

Outside of Burma, remarked a university professor who worked until recently
for an international organisation in Rangoon, Suu Kyi is regarded as a
goddess. ''But here in Burma she could turn cartwheels on the Sule Pagoda

and the military junta wouldn't turn a hair.'' The professor claimed that
the junta were keen to open a dialogue with the opposition, but at no price
with its leader.

Until now, Suu Kyi has held the ideological reins of her National League for
Democracy firmly in her control. Now, however, her fellow democrats'
solidarity is beginning to waver and disintegrate.

Three leading NLD members recently sent an open letter to the party
demanding that a dialogue between the ruling military apparatus and the
opposition be opened. What must have been especially galling to the veteran
opposition leader was the fact that the letter was addressed to the party
leadership and not to her personally.

They were ''lackeys of the military,'' Suu Kyi was reported as saying.
''Traitors who sow disunity in the party despite their pledge to fight for
freedom and democracy.''

The fact that the three dissidents had only recently been imprisoned by the
junta has led to speculation that they made a political deal in return for
their release. A European diplomat, however, poured water on this theory,
saying it was too convenient an explanation.

''Unrest is growing, and the three NPD politicians only expressed what many
are thinking in the party today,'' he said, adding that a further
complication was posed by the fact that Suu Kyi is ever loath to reveal her
political course. Most party members are unclear how they would react to an
offer of talks with the junta.

Nevertheless, one Western diplomat summoned up a dilemma felt by many of his
counterparts in Rangoon: ''We cannot withdraw our loyalty to her. And until
the junta gives a clear sign that it is ready to compromise, Suu Kyi remains
the only acceptable opponent.'' -- Frankfurter Rundschau