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Asiaweek - We have Compromised 3
- Subject: Asiaweek - We have Compromised 3
- From: tinkyi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 06 Jun 1999 19:45:00
We Have Compromised - 3
Might they form a 'third force' with other disaffected party members?
"No, I'm not worried in the least bit. Somebody asked me whether I was
worried that they might form a political party. I said I would be very happy
if they formed a political party. Because that would prove beyond a shadow
of a doubt that they were working with the authorities. Because only then
would they be allowed to form a new political party."
New political parties are not allowed now?
"No, there are no political parties coming into existence at this moment.
And what is also very telling is that they were given full facilities to go
all over Burma to try to persuade other MPs to join them. And the great
majority of our MPs are under virtual house arrest. Certainly they are not
allowed out of town."
Bottomline: is the NLD disintegrating?
"No, no. Only people like that. I don't like to mention names, but some of
this present lot were already wavering in 1996 when they were first placed
under detention. It was enough to scare them. The first time we tried to
hold a congress in May 1996, when all our MPs were taken in, some of those
who signed this letter resigned as MPs then. And there were others who
almost resigned then, but then they were encouraged to stay on. They were
just nervous, they couldn't stand up to the pressure."
How do you feel about these people in the party who crack under the
"I don't particularly feel anything against those who crack under pressure,
because it is difficult. And I think there are times when people are at a
low ebb, their spirits are at a low ebb, and they feel they can't get on
anymore. But what I don't like is the way in which they try to justify the
fact that they cannot go on anymore in terms of their concern over the
welfare of the people etc etc. I think I would respect them much more if
they simply said, as some have said, we really can't take it any more. You
know, we just want a bit of peace and quiet."
You lost your former party vice president and key adviser U Kyi Maung some
"Yes, he has effectively retired I should say."
I saw him yesterday morning, he feels that people like this should be
allowed to dissent.
To express dissenting views from the party's mainline.
"Of course, they can express dissenting views. As I said, they can express
dissenting views through the right channels, in the right way. But
expressing dissenting views is quite different from writing to Khin Nyunt."
Some say you lost your key adviser when you lost U Kyi Maung. And that as a
result you have never been as clear in your political thinking since then.
"No. U Kyi Maung was not my key adviser. He worked in a group together
before with U Aung Shwe and VP U Tin U. They and U Kyi Maung were all in the
army at one time. So they were one group as it were. And then of course
there is the rest of the EC as well."
Your executive committee is getting pretty long in the tooth.
"Well, yes, the younger ones are in jail at the moment. Our younger
potential EC members."
It seems that the regime feels more comfortable than ever at this time. They
are less worried about you and your party. Many feel they are winning the PR
battle so to speak.
"I don't know whether they are less worried or more worried, but we are not
particularly worried either. Because I think the regime knows that they have
a lot of problems."
Reading some recent reports in the regional press, I see headlines like
'Burmese icon suffers indignity of dissent' and 'Critics have a tough time
with Aung San Suu Kyi' etc etc. It seems even normally supportive papers are
being more critical of you.
"We've always had that. I don't think we have ever had 100% support from any
media. I think there were probably some Western newspapers which
consistently supported the movement for democracy. But I don't think you can
say that for any of the Asian media."
You don't feel that you are somehow losing the game?
"No, we've always had ups and downs. This is nothing new. We've always had
these declarations about how the NLD is losing ground and it's, you know,
people are falling away. And then again you get another wave of you know
troubles within the NLD and too much pressure and cracking up, it's really
like waves going up and down, and that's politics. It's been like that since
the very beginning in 1988. We have never had, I don't think we've ever had
a run of more than a few months of consistent, of one view of the NLD. It'll
be like this now, like this time. I remember a matter of days before the
elections in 1990 a lot of newspapers were commenting on the fact that of
course the NLD was popular and that it could possibly win the largest number
of seats in parliament, but certainly not a majority. And this is not the
view of one paper, it was a general view. And this was days before the 1990
elections. And then of course, after the elections it was a completely
different view altogether. As though they knew all along that it was the NLD
that had the grassroots support. So we've got quite used to that now. The
ups and downs of news reporting."
Nobody realized in advance what the magnitude of your win would be in the
1990 elections. I suspect even NLD people never thought you would win that
"We did. I think, I can prove it. I had actually written to somebody to say
that I was sure that we would win at least 75% of the seats. And I think
there were others who knew that too."
You've taken this position even against humanitarian aid?
"What stand against humanitarian aid?
People donating medical products and injectables and so on.
"No, we haven't. Now this is the problem, people never go into these things
thoroughly. What we said about humanitarian aid is that we are not against
it. But we want it properly monitored so that it is given equally to
everybody and not just to those who are favored by the authorities. And that
the aid should not be used by the authorities as part of the propaganda
But no developing country can ever guarantee aid won't be misued in some
way. So they can't guarantee that here, and so because of your stance it
doesn't come in and again the people suffer.
"Well, some can come in, and some has done so. I mean, the way with certain
United Nations agency projects, we have agreed that they were doing good and
that it was being properly monitored and they are going ahead. There are
others to which we have objected on the grounds that they were helping the
regime. For example, there were certain projects where it was arranged for
members of the regime's USDA United Solidarity & Development Association to
be sent on courses abroad for observatory holidays and things like that. And
we would object to this because this is obviously playing into the hands of
the SPDC. But we have never said that we are against humanitarian aid per
se. And we've never said that all NGOs should leave Burma or not come in. Or
anything like that."
So again there seems to be a wrong perception since many people say: Suu Kyi
won't even let humanitarian aid in, they even mention examples, some
"Well, nobody even asked us what do we feel about them donating whatever it
is. And if they had asked us we would probably have said: well, that's fine
provided you make sure it is given to everybody in an even-handed way and
that it's not given to the USDA. For example, if you're going to distribute
milk powder we certainly don't want the USDA to be the organization through
which this milk powder is distributed. Because then that would become a
political rather than a humanitarian project."
But surely at least people would get the milk powder anyway?
"Well, depends who. The people might not get the milk powder, the families
of the USDA might get the milk powder and some of it might well go onto the
market. A diplomat admitted to me that he had actually seen some medicines
donated by his country in a shop. I think there was a certain symbol which
indicated that this was part of a load of medicines donated for humanitarian
purposes. But where did those medicines end up: in a private pharmacy. There
is a lot of that going on. This is what we want to guard against."
After six years house arrest, you now have limited freedom. But people say
you don't travel about the city much.
"Why should I? What for? I mean, I do go around. But I don't go out just in
order to be seen going out. I go out when there is reason for me to go out.
We always go to NLD functions, that is to say, you know, for example, if any
member of the NLD dies, we always rally round and organize the funeral and
religious rites and so on. On these occasions I do go. And I do go to
certain social functions, family affairs and so on. But I don't go walkabout
just for the sake of going walkabout if that is what they mean. I do go to
the pagoda occasionally."
And within Yangon city you are fairly unrestricted?
"Yes. I don't go shopping very often, I took my son shopping the other day.
But I really don't have much to shop for. Because what would I shop for? I
live at home. I don't have family here so I don't have a family to shop
How do you feel about being called tags like the 'champion of democracy' and
the 'heroine of Burma' and so on?
"I don't take them really too seriously. The tags change all the time, don't
But you are one of the few figures who are recognized all over the world.
"I don't think so. I think there are many others who are supposed to be
champions of certain causes, not necessarily just democracy."
But in the context of being a champion fighting against great odds, you're
seen as comparable to the Dalai Lama.
"Well, I don't think anything particular about it. For me it is just a job
that has to be done."
Not a martyr?
"No. No, I don't have a martyr complex. What you need are workers, not
You did say at one time that you had no ill feelings toward the military for
putting you under house arrest, 'I do have a soft spot for the Myanmar army,
it's because of my father,' you said.
"Yes, I don't hold it against them because they put me under house arrest."
"No. Why? It's part of the job. You know."
People say this intractable impasse has become worse because it has become
personalized. That there appears to be personal animosity between the
principals on both sides.
Yourself and -
"And who? That's when they say the regime leaders and then one is not quite
sure who is actually the dominant leader of the regime. So that's also only
speculative. If they mean me and all the SPDC, then it's not personal any
more, is it. Because it's all of them."
Okay, you and General Khin Nyunt.
"Khin Nyunt, I don't even know him. I've met him one, two, three times. And
we haven't had enough dealings with people to be able to say that there's a
personal animosity between us. I don't know if there is on his side, but
certainly not on mine. It's very difficult to have a personal animosity
against somebody whom you've only met two or three times under rather formal
But based on that limited experience with him.
"No, there was no grounds for personal animosity at all. We don't like in
the least bit what the MI Military Intelligence, which Khin Nyunt heads are
doing, but that's not personal. It's the MI as an organization and it's
actions that we object to. It's not to do with Khin Nyunt as a person."
Under the right circumstances you feel you could work with him?
"I don't know whether I can get along with him or not, but there's no reason
why we should not be able to get work done if there is work to be done
He has been termed the 'prince of darkness' by some publications.
"I don't know why. I think military intelligence organizations everywhere
are terrible. They go in for torture and oppression and a whole lot of
nastiness, so as somebody who represents such an organization I suppose you
can call him all sorts of things but I think expressions like the 'prince of
darkness' are rather too dramatic."
The domestic media in these critical articles about you, refer to you as the
'bogadaw' - it means the foreigner, doesn't it?
"Oh, I think it means the wife of a white man. Well, I am the wife of an
The cast doubts on your citizenship because you lived abroad, mostly in
England, for such a long time. Are you a Burmese citizen?
"Yes, I am a Burmese citizen."
Do you have a British passport?
"No, I don't. I have never had one. I think that upsets them, that I've
never held any other nationality except Burmese. I think they would be very
happy if they could say that I had ever been a citizen of another country."
The government says that you showed little interest in your country when you
lived abroad, you never reported to the embassy in London and so forth. That
effectively you turned your back on Burma for 20 odd years.
"They can say whatever they like. For example, they say I didn't register my
children at the embassy of Burma in London. And I was amused because it's
precisely because I registered my children at the embassy that they thought
of saying that I didn't. Some of the things they say are just downright
lies. They say my husband moved from a small house in England into a huge
one which he bought with the money that I got from my Nobel Prize. When in
fact he moved from a whole house into an apartment at the top of a bigger
house. Because an apartment house is obviously much more bigger than a
family home. And they knew it was a lie, but they kept saying it
Do you still feel bitter about the way they refused to let your husband
visit you in Myanmar before he died?
"I don't discuss family matters."
"Because I want my family to be able to maintain their privacy. And people
are interested in me for the politics that I'm doing so let's stick to
But in the democratic world it's a fact of life for public figures to have
aspects of their private life made public.
"This is not a democratic world in which I'm living."
But if it became one you'd have to discuss your private life.
"Well, it depends on what you mean by having to discuss it. I don't think
there is a requirement as such. You can choose to discuss it or choose not
Your health is good?
Are you rich?
"No. But I'm all right. I'm not rich, I have earnings from my books
royalities which by Burmese standards are good. But compared to the members
of SPDC I'm nothing like wealthy."
You are legally secretary-general of the NLD?
The regime says not.
"Yes, they have no right to say that. According to the rules of the
multi-party democracy elections commission, it's for the political parties
to decide what they do in their own internal affairs."
Are you going to leave the country?
"No. Why should I?"
You would never take a trip because you are fearful they would not allow you
"Oh, well, there will come a time when I will be able to take a trip without
worrying about whether I can come back."
Some people, other journalists and diplomats, told me that you are
thin-skinned and get upset at certain questions.
"Why? I have met many journalists, and they all ask the same sort of
questions you want to ask. And the only ones I consistently refuse to answer
is anything about my family. Otherwise it is a journalist's job to ask
questions. Whether or not the interviewee likes the question is another
matter. There are diplomats with whom I disagree. And if I don't agree with
them, I say so. They say so, too. Which is fair enough. But I've met so many
journalists that if I were to be upset every time they asked me a question
that was not exactly what I wanted I'd have to be upset all the time. I've
never heard of anybody ever being asked to be tactful about my feelings. I
mean, I take it for granted that politicians are there to be asked questions
however awkward the questions may be."
Asiaweek June 11, 1999.
'WE HAVE COMPROMISED'
Suu Kyi says negotiations can start without her
(The full transcript--only at Asiaweek online)
PEOPLE HAVE BEEN WAITING years for Myanmar's junta to open substantive
negotiations with the opposition National League for Democracy. The generals
promised they would talk with anybody in the NLD, except the party's leader,
Aung San Suu Kyi. The party insisted on her presence. Negotiations never
began. Now, though, for the first time Suu Kyi seems willing to let other
NLD officials start a dialogue with the generals. She recently discussed her
future, and that of her party, with Asiaweek Senior Correspondent Roger
Mitton in Yangon.
Yesterday was the 9th anniversay of the 1990 elections which your party won
handsomely. What is state of your party today compared to back then?
"Well, I wasn't around when the elections took place because I was under
house arrest. So I can't really compare the party today to what it was in
1990. But I can compare it to what it was like before I was placed under
house arrest, that is 1989. Compared to 1989, the party is subjected to a
lot more restrictions. There have been a lot of arrests of party members in
the meantime, and some of our best people are still in prison. Some have
started coming out - not because of an amnesty or anything like that, but
because they've served their term and are having to juggle their way back
into the free, or as free as it is in Burma, free society. And the party, I
think, is tougher. It's much more, it's smaller because obviously a lot of
our members have been forced to resign. Or they have been put into prison.
But I think there's a tougher feel to it, it's more tight knit. It has to
You said in your human rights message in April this year that you have faced
more hardship over the past year than over the preceding 7 or 8 yrs.
"Oh, yes. Because the authorities, over the last year, really started
getting serious about trying to annhilate the party. Because this has been
their slogan for I think about two or three years now. Annhilation."
Annhiliation? This is the term they use?
"Yes, that is the term they actually use. They use this word annhilate. And
I think then they changed it to crush perhaps because there was a little bit
of criticism on the part of the international community."
You said the regime's activities against you are tantamount to criminal
"They are criminal activities. Because what they are doing is against the
law. According to the terms of the law, some of the things they have done
are crimes. So they are criminal activities."
But there is nothing much you can do about it even so?
"Oh, there is no rule of law in this country. So the fact that they act in
these criminal ways, it does not make any difference to them. It makes a lot
of difference to the people, of course."
On May 27 last year your party held a Congress and announced its intention
to convene a parliament. That was a fairly dramatic action.
"No, it wasn't like that. We did not announce our intention to convene
parliament last year. It was not like that. But one of the decisions taken
at the Congress was that we should ask the authorities to convene parliament
by a certain date."
And subsequently you placed a deadline of August 21 by which time parliament
must be convened by the regime.
"That was the decision of the Congress that we should inform the authorities
that parliament should be convened by a certain date."
And if they did not convene parliament by that date?
"Well, we discussed this matter. Party representatives who came to the
Congress wanted to know whether we had an alternative plan. And we said we
didn't at the moment because the decision had just been made that we should
inform the authorities of our decision to ask parliament to be convened. But
then we decided that we would have to make an alternative plan because if
they didn't meet the deadline then we must take another action."
That's when you decided you would name your own committee that would
represent parliament in the absence of the regime convening it?
"The committee representing parliament, yes. But we went step by step. They
didn't convene parliament by the 21st of August, so our party announced that
we would then convene parliament on our own and then the regime started
arresting our MPs. So then we decided that we would form the committee
So it was a fairly dramatic summer last year.
"But step by step. I think if you put all these things together then it
makes it into a great big drama. But that is not how it actually was. It was
one thing at a time."
It certainly captured the attention of the international media, especially
when you add on your own attempts to drive out of town.
"Yes, but again that was at a different time. It was all spread out from May
until September last year. May, June, July, August, September. It was spread
out over five months. If you put together what happened over the five months
then it seems very dramatic, but if you take it one thing at a time, then
you can see that we went quite slowly."
Yesterday, the one-year anniversary of your congress when you took the first
of those steps and asked the regime to convene parliament, you held another
party meeting but you did not make any comparable move or first step of any
"Well, there's no need for a first step any more, we've already taken the
first and second steps - the second step was to form the committee
representing parliament. Now the next stage is to take forward the
activities of the committee. That is the logical next step. You can't keep
taking first steps all the time. That wouldn't make sense, would it."
But many people felt you would make another dramatic move on May 27 this
year in order to boost your party's profile.
"People always want drama, I think especially journalists. They want
something dramatic all the time to write about. Which is why I disagree with
your view of our having done something terribly dramatic last May. It wasn't
like that at all. You're putting together five months events into one day,
and then of course, that makes it seem very dramatic."
So there will be no comparable actions over this summer, even if spread out?
"I don't know what you mean by comparable actions. Because what we did last
summer was to go forward step by step, and we will keep on going forward
step by step."
Well, comparable actions like driving out of the city?
"Driving out of the city was not part of the call for convening parliament.
It was connected to that because they started arresting our MPs."
That action of driving out of the city put you and your party into the
headlines of the world's media.
"Although it may surprise people, we don't do things in order to attract
attention. We do what we think would help us in our political aims, that's
So things like driving out of the city, which might precipitate a rather
strong reaction from the regime, you are not at the moment planning any of
those types of actions this year?
"Last year, if you think back, the first two times we did that, driving out,
it was resolved very quietly. And we were not doing it in order to
precipitate a strong reaction either. Because the authorities decided to
play it in a civilized way and there was a civilized solution. It was only
the third time, when it was decided that they wanted to go in for drama. So
it was not we who went in for drama. We, as I said earlier, don't do things
in order to attract attention or to create drama. We do what we think would
be politically beneficial for our party and its supporters."
I repeat that people were expecting you and your party have to do something
dramatic like last year.
"We never say what we are going to do in advance. So it's no use in trying
to find out."