Freedom, at last, for the hero. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She has been in prison or under house arrest off and on for 15 years since 1989. She is the hope of thousands of people who are eager for a democratic change in Myanmar after almost five decades of military rule. She is `The Lady’ -- Aung San Suu Kyi.
The streets of Yangon were filled with renewed optimism on Sunday as thousands turned up to hear the newly released Suu Kyi. In her address, the charismatic 65-year-old Suu Kyi told her supporters: “I believe in human rights and I believe in the rule of law. I will always fight for these things… I want to work with all democratic forces and I need the support of the people.”
In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, David Steinberg, a specialist on Myanmar, discusses Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest and her role in Myanmar’s future.
David Steinberg is Distinguished Professor and Director of Asian Studies, Georgetown University.
Kamna: Finally, Myanmar junta has released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Is it a hint of any change or just a tactic of Myanmar’s military leaders?
David: The military has given no indication that they will change -- they have since 1962 basically said they will retain essential powers either directly (1962-74, 1988-2010) or indirectly (1974-1988, 2011--). I believe they have every intention of continuing to exert control. Of course, that may change in the years ahead as the military evolves.
Kamna: Do you think her "let`s meet and talk" message to supreme leader Senior General Than Shwe will be of any help to Myanmar?
David: He has given no indication (that) he is ready to talk, and the whole question may be delayed until the new government is formed within 90 days.
Kamna: In her first appearance since being freed, Suu Kyi urged thousands of supporters to stand up for their rights. What kind of political innings will she play now?
David: There are rights in the new Constitution. They are circumscribed, but we will see what they will allow. We must also watch the censorship law and see if that is changed. This is very important.
Kamna: Do you think she will urge the West to end sanctions on Myanmar? If she does, how successful would her appeal be?
David: I hope she will (it is difficult for a politician to be in favour of poverty), and that could ease her relations with the military, and I think the US would respond at least in part. Her views have essentially determined US policy.
Kamna: Many governments have urged junta to free all Myanmar`s political prisoners. Will the military ruler pay attention to their demand?
David: I have advocated they do that for years and told them they could without giving in to Western pressure -- do it on Buddha`s birthday, I have argued. Now they should do it on the inauguration of the new government.
Kamna: What course, according to you, should be taken by the international community to improve human rights standards in Myanmar?
David: Continue high level dialogue and avoid public criticism -- do what one needs to do in private.