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AFP-Suu Kyi defiant over government

Subject: AFP-Suu Kyi defiant over government crackdown, dissent

Suu Kyi defiant over government crackdown, dissent
YANGON, May 14 (AFP) - A defiant Aung San Suu Kyi insisted Friday her
democratic opposition was stronger than ever but admitted that intense
pressure from Myanmar's military junta had exposed internal rifts in the
In an exclusive interview with AFP, the Nobel laureate said the government
crackdown was a kind of "test" which would ultimately strengthen her
National League for Democracy (NLD).

"We have stronger public support than ever," she told AFP in her rundown
party headquarters in Yangon.

"Our official apparatus has been affected by the government, in the sense of
forcing our offices to close down. But in some ways this is, how shall I put
it, a kind of test."

Aung San Suu Kyi said her party had always had internal difficulties but
acknowledged that many members had found the going "too tough" following a
renewed crackdown in recent months.

Most recently a group of dissident MPs harshly criticised her hardline
approach to the junta, criticism which she dismissed as the result of
"collaboration with the military intelligence."

Thousands of NLD members have been detained since the NLD issued a call last
year for a meeting of the parliament elected when the party swept a 1990
general election. The junta never recognised the result.

Aung San Suu Kyi said the crackdown had taken a toll on the party's
membership and infrastructure but the NLD would emerge stronger.

"From this it emerges who are the really dedicated members, who are the
really strong ones," she said, launching an attack on a handful of party
members who have publicly said her approach has resulted in a stalemate.

"I think one would have to admit there were a certain number of opportunists
in the NLD," she said.

"This is not a bad way of weeding them out. The ones who are left are the
really dedicated ones, who are committed to the cause of democracy and not
to their own cause.

"I think one dedicated member is worth a thousand wishy-washy ones," she

For months the official press has printed regular lists of party workers
whom it says have left the NLD because of disillusionment with the

NLD top brass say the members, many of whom resigned after being detained by
the government, were forced to leave and some of those purportedly quitting
were never full members in the first place.

While admitting the government clampdown had affected the party, Aung San
Suu Kyi dismissed the notion that its falling membership rolls would consign
it to the political wilderness.

"When we were first formed in 1988 there was an inrush of members into the
NLD because everyone knew we were going to win the elections....a lot of
members of political parties are sleeping members -- they really don't do
anything," she said.

"They have a membership card and that's about all. The dedicated few are the
ones who keep the party going."

The policies of Myanmar's military junta had inflicted deep scars on the
population, she said, and no one would believe government claims that the
poisoned political climate was the result of an NLD conspiracy.

"Our offices may be forced to close down but the people are very aware of
the fact that we have nothing to do with the rising prices, or the fact that
child mortality is rising and elementary school dropouts are rising," she

"That's entirely to do with what the government is able to do, or rather not
able to do.

"Every day that the country deteriorates, the credibility and the
respectability of the authorities suffer," she said.

The junta has said it is always ready to talk to the party but refuses to
sit down with Aung San Suu Kyi, whom it regards as a puppet of the West.

The party refuses to countenance talks without its leader, who is seen by
many in Myanmar and the rest of the world as an icon of democracy.

Dissident MP Tin Tun Maung said his group of about a dozen NLD MPs did not
deserve a harsh rebuke from the leadership as they still supported the
party's core aim for a democratic transition of power.

Another maverick NLD member, Than Tun, said: "It is evident that during the
11 years the NLD has not been able to solve even a segment of the problems
faced by the people."

Aung San Suu Kyi, the founding leader of the NLD, spent years under house
arrest and still has only limited freedom of movement. Many NLD members have
been imprisoned and foreign critics accuse the government of gross human
rights violations.

Myanmar ministers say they are waiting for the political situation to
stabilise before handing over power to a civilian government.