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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 21:31 GMT
Aung San Suu Kyi talks to the world
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is mobbed after he release from house arrest, May 2002
Burma's military freed Aung San Suu Kyi in May

She is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a symbol of her nation's hopes, a woman who has spent most of the past 15 years under arrest in her house.

I believed that once Aung San Suu Kyi began to hear from people around the world, she would not leave us

But for a little more than a hour this week, Aung San Suu Kyi was a voice at the end of our telephone line to Rangoon - a voice so powerful, yet so calm.

This was Talking Point with a difference: Aung San Suu Kyi seemed to be dispensing advice to the world.

There was no mistaking her precise diction, that soft distinctive lilt.

"I can only give you 20 to 30 minutes," she cautioned in a most gracious way.

That would leave us with half a programme. We all worried whether the telephone line would also fail.

Either the connection to Burma would go down or the military authorities would make sure it did.

Advice

But, somehow, I believed that once Aung San Suu Kyi began to hear from people around the world, she would not leave us.

Senior General Than Shwe
The Burmese military allowed the interview

And she did not. Maybe it was because many did not just call or e-mail, as they do for our guests every week, to seek her opinion or to challenge her.

They wanted her to tell them what to do.

Jeremy in London asked whether he should travel to Burma - Myanmar as it is known - over the holiday period.

Neil Roberts e-mailed from Hanoi to ask if it was OK to apply for a teaching job in Rangoon.

Almost everyone who called began by expressing admiration for her and her long struggle for democracy in Burma.

Frustration

In our post-11 September world, when so much of our political coverage uses words like militancy, violence and protest, Aung San Suu Kyi's language was noticeably different.

We hoped good news would be on the way. But there is nothing, only hope

Tin Htun
Burmese exile

She told Barbara, who e-mailed from Sri Lanka, that violence sometimes seemed to win in the short run but in the long run it would only destroy more than it created.

Political dialogue with the military government was the priority - everything else had to wait including tourism and investment.

Even crackling telephone lines could not hide the sadness and frustration from exiles far away.

"We hoped good news would be on the way," said Tin Htun a Burmese national living in the United States. "But there is nothing, only hope."

Aung San Suu Kyi offered nothing specific except glimpses of her commitment and her calm certitude that change would come - in its own time.

Thanks

For many callers, there was clearly magic in just speaking to her. Ahmad Nasir barely managed to express his excitement that he in the Maldives could speak to Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon.

In the end, I realised this was Aung San Suu Kyi's present to us for the 70th birthday of the BBC World Service.

She reminded us of what we have long tried to do - give people a chance to speak and to speak to each other.

That day, all of us at talking point felt touched by the power of that thought and that voice down our telephone line.

Before we said goodbye, I also thanked the Burmese generals who may have been listening in.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma Opposition Leader
"The people of Burma long for change"

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See also:

21 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Feb 02 | Country profiles
12 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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