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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Can democracy be restored in Burma?
Burma's military government has released the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in Rangoon for the past 19 months.
With restrictions on her movement and political activities now lifted, she has pledged to work for her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and renew her struggle to bring back democracy to Burma.
Many supporters are hoping she will be able to wrest control of the country from the military, which cast aside her landslide election victory in 1990.
But Burma, estranged from most of the world after years of military rule, is now facing acute social deprivation and a crumbling economy.
Should the NLD try to work with Burma's military government? Or should it try to push for democratic reform in other ways?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Dr Tin S, Taiwan
"The non-zero sum game" is about to enter the next stage. Neither turbulent flow nor slow flow is a good movement. Constant, steady flow is the best movement. Some believe that the generals are only stringing out the process to deflect international pressure. They should realise that prolonging the process loses them bargaining power. The fast unravelling economy won't allow a long string.
Military ascendancy is not a Burmese tradition. But we should notice that the legacy of Ne Win Era still remains in the political arena. The action against that family might be an attempt to separate the army from past connection with Ne Win. There is little hope that Burmese generals will go back to the barracks as their counterparts in Thailand did years ago.
James M. Castro, USA
The Burmese military rulers don't deserve praise or reward for righting their own wrongdoing. You don't bargain with bullies. The destiny of Burma is democracy and that's what the free world must insist on for Burma.
The dawn is coming. We are really happy in the UK.
Burma will never be a democracy so long as the army are in charg.
This is the dawn of democracy to Burma. Of course, it is great news to anyone who realises the value of democracy, but we still need to be careful about the tricks and strategies of the junta. We should not be careless that they have nothing more than in their heart but power.
At last our nightmares are going to be finished and the suffering to be removed. We, the people who were away from the motherland, should welcome the progress of our country's political situation and thank both the government and the opposition party.
Claire Guyer, USA
What we need now urgently is a completely stable country run by a government which really knows how to gain public trust.
I believe neither NLD nor SPDC alone can do it. Democracy and human rights are no use for an empty stomach. Besides, we can't build a democratic country in one day.
As Maung Maung, USA said, "We can't afford to suffer again for power play."
We believe that Aung San Suu Kyi will bring democracy to our country
Kyaw Kyaw Soe, Japan
I believe it was 1776 when this country gained its independence from a repressive government. I feel this is what Aung San Suu Kyi has in mind for Burma.
The SPDC can no longer afford to operate without foreign investment. Suu Kyi's release is a ploy to encourage investment and lifting of sanctions. The world must do neither and keep the pressure. The SPDC are at their weakest for decades.
Never mind Burma, with present attitudes and actions, can democracy be restored in western Europe? Or is the view held by the political establishment the only one permitted?
Htee Ku, Burma
This is a great step forward, though I'm naturally cautious. I wonder what actions they'll take to support their words. Remember that although they're giving in to political pressure finally, that their motives have likely not changed. Suu Kyi has been released before in the past, though this release is said to be "unconditional." I think that there are some outstanding questions such as: will they hold a new election? Remember that the NLD won by a landslide in 1989 and that consequently lead to political detainments. Are they finally willing to provide a voice to the people? Or will they use this release to get themselves into the good graces of the US so that it will be "politically correct" for big name investors to resume investments? To date, most, if not all of that money has gone into pockets, and building a robust military.
The time to visit would be in the coming year to take a temperature of the general sentiment and hopefulness of the general public. Although I've expressed some weariness in the above, I do think that this is a step forward - strategic or otherwise. I encountered some people on my trip who were near to tears as we discussed their quality of life in private, and wish that I was there today to either see the celebration, or witness the doubt. I sense that their daily lives will not change much in the near future.
This is the same regime had put Daw Suu under house arrest in 1989 and released her from years later. Then put her behind the iron gate again. Now let her go outside the gate again! Who knows what's next? This on-again off-again pattern must stop here. The release is a great news indeed... yet, I'm still incredulous about her release being "unconditional." Let's wait and see.
Finally, our country leader has been freed. I am looking forward to Burma being a democratic country like the UK and America. Please help my country to be a democratic country. I believe the regime would make the election happen again. Hopefully, Burma will be free in everything, such as trade, and foreign exchanges. So let's help Burma now. Please!
I'm really happy to hear that news about Aung San Suu Kyi's unconditional release. This is a victory for democratical strugglers in the world. She is an unstoppable heroine of our life time, for freedom, for democracy, for peace.
We have some idea of what Aung San Suu Kyi is made of after all these years. Now we shall see what the rest of the world leaders are composed of, especially those who proclaim to support democracy and human rights. What indeed does the future hold for Burma?
The military government in Burma has destroyed the country and needs to be replaced by a legitimate government. However, any government will find it difficult to repair all the damage that has been done. They will therefore need some real international help, not just words, to recover. If the military don't relinquish power soon, Burma is going to find itself in the same condition as North Korea, where there are food shortages and extreme poverty.
Tin M, Malaysia
The obvious danger is that the otherwise entirely laudable and long-overdue release of Aung San Suu Kyi will be the end of the process, not the beginning. Many other entirely innocent political prisoners languish in appalling conditions in Burma's jails, and unless there is continuing unremitting pressure from the rest of the world, they may well stay there.
Nevertheless, her release is another small victory for the power of non-violent resistance and principled political pressure, and for that small ray of sunshine in a world driven by violence, we should all be grateful.
The junta has the tacit backing of the international community. It was only few years ago that they were welcomed to the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN).They will periodically release Ms Suu Kyi for a couple of years, before consigning her back to her home-cum-prison. This is so that the international community can say "Look, see? They are interested in change, we should engage in dialogue with them." Dialogue, not about restoring democracy, but about gaining access to the remaining natural resources of the country. Dialogue about how to further exploit the cheap labour. As for the international community applying any real pressure to oust the tin pot dictatorship... I am not holding my breath.
Aung Chun, Jamaica
The military regime has been rooted in Burma for almost 40 years, and its arm-power overwhelms the unarmed pro-democracy groups in Burma. So, it is wiser to work with the current military regime to transform Burma into a democratic country rather than taking alternative routes to democracy. In the meantime, please don't forget the starving ordinary people in Burma. Immediate humanitarian aids in food, medicines and educations are essential.
Burmese intellectuals abroad welcome the news but prefer to wait and see the real change to democratic rule led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Once the best in South East Asia, Burma is now one of the poorest. When freedom from fear rules in Burma under Aung San Suu Kyi, most living abroad will go back home and participate in the country's rebuilding. Give room for the military to have freedom from fear for their own life and property. Have a big heart and do not revenge, so that Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to lead the country, the sooner the better.
I agree with people who say 'wait and see.' I am happy that Suu Kyi is released but military junta has been lying to everyone for over a decade. I don't want to be optimistic about this news at this time. So, let's wait and see.
The military junta ran Burma to the ground as demonstrated by the economic mess and extreme social deprivation they have created. These dinosaurs must go. Burma needs our help and the international community must do what it takes to give democracy a chance to thrive, including economic aid.
Caroline Walcot, Belgium
Caution and more work tomorrow but for one day let's just be happy!
This is not the first time that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. In July 1995, SLORC, as the Burmese regime was then known, released her from six years of house arrest, during which her coalition party, the NLD, won a landslide electoral victory. The junta refused to hand over power.
Suu Kyi's release then, as now, was party thanks to international pressure. But the world's attention soon wandered and Suu Kyi's freedom was increasingly restricted.
As a reporter in Thailand in the early 1990s, I met many people who had been rounded up by SLORC and made to carry food and weapons to the frontlines where the hated Burmese army was fighting the Karen, one of several ethnic minorities who have been struggling for independence since 1947.
Joe Bindloss, UK
This is heartening news indeed. At this stage, we can only hope the military junta's moves are a genuine step towards restoring democracy to the cruelly oppressed people of Burma. No praise is high enough for Aung San Suu Kyi for the stand she has made for the people of that country.
What is important at this juncture is to revive the economy and let foreign companies also play an important role in reviving the economy of Myanmar.
Robert Peters, Australia
I think this is just the beginning. There is a lot more to be done. It is not right for military rulers to control some of the most peaceful people in the world. Democracy cannot pave its way into Burma as long as the military is in power. The international community needs to do a lot more to drive out the military dictators who dishonoured the election results from a few years ago where the NLD had a landslide victory. Ang's release is a good start, but there more work to do before we can be realistically hope to see Burma transformed into a democracy.
Whatever happens, we as a country have to stand on our own two feet. We have suffered long enough from British imperialism, of which the military junta can be said to have derived from to unite the country. An understanding of freedom and establishing democracy will take time for our people, but with Aung San Suu Kyi, and the peaceful minds of her and my Burmese people, I'm certain that a peaceful move toward democracy is not far away.
Thiha Thura, Australia
Aung San Suu Kyi's (hopefully) unrestricted release is the beginning. She now needs all the patience, tolerance, pragmatism and compassion that her Buddhist background has engendered in her to guide her in leading the people of Burma to a decent existence. I hope the international community will do all they can to help her in her task.
I am proud that a Malaysian United Nations envoy was able to make a possible deal with the junta for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. I hope that she and her supporters will keep clear of violence by not retaliating against the junta for progress and develop together with other third world countries. I do admire the courage and will in her as a symbol of women in politics. May God bless her and the people of Burma.
This indeed is the greatest news of the year. I hope the junta eventually realise the tremendous loss we have incurred. I now need to go back home and spend some lost time with long lost friends.
Maung Aung, USA
It's great news to see Aung San Suu Kyi free again. It must be a great lift for the Burmese people and her loyal supporters who have endured so much. Still it is only one step in the long journey to proper freedom and democracy. Best wishes to her. May her resolve remain strong.
This is not the first time that the Burmese military have carried out an action which seems to hint at loosening their control. They have carried out similar 'liberalisation' measures once every decade since the 1960s. Each time, the measures were carried out to test the waters, gauge the level of support for the opposition and to reaffirm military control thereafter. So frankly speaking, I am really sceptical about this latest move. Furthermore, the regime has just experienced an abortive coup, thus it is even more unlikely that it will want to loosen control now.
I am very optimistic after hearing about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. I hope our Japanese government will play its part in making the democracy talks easier.
I hope it will bring significant change for the people of Burma who have been living under fear and oppression by the military government for far too long. They really deserve to finally join the world democratic community!
Dr B T Win, Canada
Though there's a long way to go before we see the "real democracy" in Myanmar [Burma], the international community, beginning with Japan and other G-8 countries, should extend a welcome gesture to the regime, for taking this all important positive step towards national reconciliation (albeit seemingly reluctantly and under world pressure).
While I am happy that she has been released after many years, this appears to be nothing more than a political act done in reaction to world events. The international community should welcome her release but have a wait-and-see approach to see if this is real change or political blue smoke and mirrors.
The Burmese military junta has been lying to its people and international community for over a decade - the world still has to be cautious about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Unless the junta proves they are genuinely trying to improve the country's image, we should not be optimistic about this news yet.
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