The world's most famous prisoner has little to show for ten years of struggle. Is the Burmese opposition crumbling?by Adrian Levy / July 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Everyone knows that Burma is in a mess. A nation once called the Golden Land in tribute to its giant gem pits has sold them off to the Chinese in return for guns and tanks. Thousands of miles of ancient hardwood forest have been torn down and replanted with opium fields. The once lush rice bowl of Asia can no longer feed itself. Millions of Burmese are addled by drugs and hundreds of thousands infected with HIV, while the general who serves as health minister assures them that “Aids is a foreign disease.” The regime has launched dozens of military campaigns against its people and more than 1m of Burma’s 46m-strong population are unaccounted for.
Most people also know that Burma is the setting for an extraordinary political morality tale—Asia’s beauty and the beast. While the world’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been forced to fight for democracy behind the locked gates of her home in University Avenue in Rangoon, the country has been slowly strangled by a secretive junta whose fiscal policies are drawn up by astrologers.
There was thus great excitement on 9th January this year when the UN special envoy, Razali Ismail, announced that the State Peace and Development Council which runs Burma had agreed to talks with Suu Kyi. Western newspapers debated whether the talks—the first in five years—meant that she would finally be permitted to play a role in Burma’s future. Some reports even speculated that the junta had decided to recognise the results of the last election, held in May 1990, when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won 392 out of 485 seats.
Six weeks after the special envoy’s announcement, another news item emerged from the news-shy country that appeared to bolster Suu Kyi’s position. A helicopter carrying 29 of Burma’s senior military men had plunged into the jungle north of Rangoon. Among the dead was one of Suu Kyi’s harshest critics who had called for her to be “crushed without mercy”; Lt Gen Tin Oo was a leading member of a hard line faction that opposed weakening the military’s grip.
What the state media did not reveal was that the crash on 19th February was no accident.…