Suu Kyi calls for talks with military regime
Activist will continue fight to free people
Published 15/11/2010 | 05:00
AUNG San Suu Kyi, Burma's freed democracy leader, said yesterday her struggle to improve human rights would continue as she issued a call to the country's military junta to hold face-to-face talks.
In her first substantial statement since being released from house arrest at the weekend, Ms Suu Kyi said she bore her captors no "antagonism".
She said she would listen to the Burmese people before deciding her next move, but that her campaign to further democracy and human rights in the country would continue.
The 65-year-old's remarks were measured, taking care not to antagonise the junta, although government officials and her lawyer, Nyan Win, said no conditions were placed on her release.
Despite her consensual approach, it is thought that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party is to challenge elections that were held last week, which were widely derided as being neither free nor fair and were decided in favour of pro-junta parties.
The NLD is understood to be preparing a report into the alleged electoral abuses that appear to have propelled the Union and Solidarity and Development Party to power.
Ms Suu Kyi will be under pressure to challenge the results of the election -- the first in 20 years since her party won a landslide vote ignored by the junta.
"Aung San Suu Kyi said that whoever won the election has won," said Aung Naing Oo, a Burma analyst based in Thailand. "But the NLD is working on a report looking at possible irregularities. So she will try to play a role outside the system."
A challenge would almost certainly be rejected by the election commission or the courts, but it would set the tone as Ms Suu Kyi explored ways to take on the regime from outside the newly formed power structures.
Ms Suu Kyi, who was released on Saturday afternoon and appeared at the gates of the crumbling lakeside mansion that had been her prison for the past seven years, called for unity.
She indicated she was willing to work with the international community to lift sanctions on the reclusive regime. Britain said it would not lift the measures "until genuine progress is made on the ground".
She reached out to an opposition divided by last Sunday's "sham" election and said all democratic forces must work together to rebuild freedom of speech and human rights in Burma.
Ms Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 21 years detained under house arrest, had to push her way through thousands of well-wishers who had come to hear her first major political address outside her party headquarters.
She was asked what message she had for General Than Shwe, the junta leader.
"Let's speak to each other directly," she said.
The two last met in secret in 2002 at the encouragement of the United Nations.
"The basis of democratic freedom is freedom of speech," she told the crowd. "Even if you are not political, politics will come to you."
She said she would need the help of other political parties.
"I want to work with all democratic forces," she said. "I believe in human rights and I believe in the rule of law. Please keep your energy for us. If we work together, we will reach our goal."
Ms Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, Burma's assassinated independence leader, said she was going to "hear the voice of the people" before deciding her course of action, although she declared: "If my people are not free, how can you say I'm free?"
Critics of sanctions say they have crippled the economy and harmed ordinary people, one-third of whom live below the poverty line.
"If the people really want sanctions to be lifted, I will consider it," said Ms Suu Kyi. "This is the time that Burma needs help. Western nations, eastern nations, the whole world . . . everything starts with dialogue."
International leaders hailed the release of Ms Suu Kyi. US President Barack Obama described her as a "hero of mine".
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said she was an "inspiration" to the world and added that the regime must now free 2,100 other political prisoners.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the release was long overdue.
"Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom of speech, democracy and human rights," he said. "Freedom is Aung San Suu Kyi's right. The Burmese regime must now uphold it."
It emerged that shortly after her release Ms Suu Kyi spoke on the telephone to her youngest son, Kim Aris (33), who is based in Britain but is in Bangkok, Thailand, awaiting a visa to visit his mother. (© Daily Telegraph, London)