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Opinion and Editorial

Set Free Suu Kyi Now

Bernard Kouchner (BURMA)
Filed on June 16, 2009

Freedom from fear.” These words, uttered by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990, resound more than ever as a call for help at a time when the Burmese junta has initiated proceedings against her that are as absurd as they are unjustified.

We are not fooled: This is a poor pretext to prevent her from participating in the upcoming elections.

“Freedom from fear.” How can one not cry out for freedom for this great lady, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991? I met her in Yangon at the end of 2002, just a few months before her endless enforced isolation began. Since her arrest on Thursday, May 14, the thoughts of all those who admire and support her are with the “Lady of Yangon,” a woman full of dignity and finesse, energy and calm, intelligence and compassion.

“Freedom from fear.” It was the living incarnation of these few words who appeared before an audience both mesmerised and awed by this living legend. Her every word was heard by a silent, respectful public, a public that did not dare to sit while she spoke. Simple, yet firm words. Innocent words. Calm and fearless words. For over 20 years, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been struggling in silence and with unshakeable courage, supported by the conviction that “it is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” For over 20 years, her refusal of fear accompanies us, mobilizes us, forces us to defend her against a despicable regime.

How can one accept that a woman, whom some call the Gandhi of Burma, could be considered a criminal so dangerous that she must be kept away from all contact with the rest of humanity?

For six years, this incredibly determined woman has been under house arrest. She lives in the sole company of two companions in misfortune. Six years of an enforced isolation, even crueler than prison. Six years with no outside contact other than sporadic medical visits, before the arrest of her doctor; or, even more rarely, a meeting with a diplomat. Six years of isolation, but in reality 19 years of deprivation of freedom. Since the 1990 elections, which saw the victory of the opposition and which should have made her the leader of her country, the junta has deprived the Burmese people of their rights. Freedom has fled this country.

For 19 years, the “Lady of Yangon” has known only brief moments of freedom. Her husband died before she could see him again. This inhumane isolation could have ended on May 27, with the official end of her house arrest, if new proceedings had not been initiated against her under false pretenses.

Once again, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is being persecuted, even though her health is deteriorating and she risks being sentenced to five years of imprisonment, which she may not survive.

The Burmese regime cannot continue to turn a deaf ear to the appeals from all over Europe, America and Asia calling for her release and that of other political prisoners. Only dialogue with the opposition will bestow legitimacy on the upcoming 2010 elections.

Twenty years after the elections that saw the victory of the National League for Democracy, these elections are vital for the future of this martyred country. Myanmar can no longer remain isolated from the rest of the world.

On the contrary, it must rejoin the rest of the world. As a start, the military junta should admit that no solution can be found without including Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in the electoral process. Senior General Than Shwe must understand that she is his best asset to guarantee the unity, the stability and finally the prosperity of the country, and that she is not a threat to his power. If the generals were to listen to the Burmese people, they would in turn free themselves from the fear that their people instill in them.

Bernard Kouchner is France’s Foreign Minister


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