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Burma Friday, 14 August, 1998, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi
Arlene Gregorius looks back at the life and career of Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi:

Like the South African leader Nelson Mandela before her, Aung San Suu Kyi, has come to be seen internationally as a symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991, by which time she had been under house arrest for two out of what was to become six years.

Now aged 53, Suu Kyi is the daughter of the late Burmese nationalist leader, General Aung San, whose resistance to British colonial rule culminated in Burma's independence in 1948.

After attending school in the Burmese capital Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi lived in India, and then went to Britain for her University education.

This is where she met and married her husband, Michael Aris, an Oxford University academic.

Already then, Michael Aris knew his wife's destiny might ultimately lie with Burma.

"Before we were married I promised my wife that I would never stand between her and her country," he says.

Aung San Suu Kyi
"We are always ready to work together with the authorities"
Aung San Suu Kyi first came to prominence when she returned to Burma in August 1988, with her husband and their two sons remaining in Britain.

She became the leader of a burgeoning pro-democracy movement in the aftermath of the brutal repression of a pro-democratic uprising earlier that summer.

Election 'victory'

The movement quickly grew into a political party that went on to win an overwhelming majority 82% percent in national elections in 1990, by which time she had already been under house arrest for a year.

The military regime, however, refused to relinquish power and stepped up intensified repression of her party, the National League for Democracy.

Martin Smith, a writer on Burmese affairs, says there are several reasons why Aung San Suu Kyi proved such a natural leader.

"Her father was the founder of the democratic movement. So Suu Kyi in a way had inherited that kind of tradition.

"But the second thing is of course down to Aung San Suu Kyi herself, her role in the democracy movement and her speeches about the need for change in Burmese society.

"And I think there is a further thing she very much had on her side - that is her comparative youth in Burmese politics."

Inspired by the non-violent campaigns of the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and India's Mahatma Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi organised rallies after her return to Burma, and travelled the country, calling for peaceful democratic reforms and free elections.

She campaigned for change through dialogue. After her release from six years of house arrest in 1995, she defined what might actually produce the talks that she wants:

"We think that the strength of our movement is really in the country itself.

"It is in the will of the people and the great majority of people in Burma want democracy.

"We as the National League for Democracy and as part of the forces for democracy, are always ready to work together with the authorities to achieve national reconciliation and we would like to think that the strength of our good will and the very strong desire of the people for democracy will bring positive results."

Despite Suu Kyi's official release from house arrest, there are still de facto restrictions on her freedom to move and speak, and oppression of pro-democracy activism continues.

Burma's human rights record has been rated one of the worst in the world after Algeria.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC News
Michael Aris: "I've never tried to deter her from what she sees as a duty to her people"
BBC News
Aung San Suu Kyi (1995) talks to BBC correspondent Fergal Keane
BBC News
Martin Smith: "She inspired a generation who were desperate for change"
BBC News
Aung San Suu Kyi: "The great majority of people in Burma want democracy"
See also:

29 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
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