Suu Kyi says she could work with regime

Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi holds flowers before speaking to supporters. She was released from house arrest Saturday.
Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi holds flowers before speaking to supporters. She was released from house arrest Saturday. (Soe Zeya Tun)
By Steve Finch
Monday, November 15, 2010

RANGOON, BURMA - Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi promised Sunday to seek political compromise with the Burmese regime that has detained her for 15 of the past 21 years.

In her first speech since being released from house arrest Saturday, surrounded by thousands of cheering supporters at her party's ramshackle headquarters in Rangoon, the Nobel laureate called for dialogue with the ruling generals. She hinted that her long-held stance backing Western economic sanctions against the regime could be eased should the Burmese people desire it, something she had not previously suggested.

"I've always believed in compromise - I don't like the idea that people think we are not for compromise," she said at a crowded news conference at her National League for Democracy headquarters.

Suu Kyi called on the world to help Burma move toward democracy after last week's landslide election victory for the regime and a political divide that analysts say could be wider than ever. Although Suu Kyi scored a resounding election victory 20 years ago, the military has prevented her from leading a process toward a democratic government and she remains sidelined by the regime.

Suu Kyi refused to single out parties and groups she would or would not work with, instead choosing a tone of reconciliation, particularly with the military.

"If there weren't any differences, there would be no need for reconciliation," she said Sunday, behind a wall of journalists and supporters inside the NLD office. "All of those groups and parties in Burma who truly believe in democracy, I would like to help."

She would not be specific about her or her party's political plans.

"My next political move? But we are moving all the time," she said. "How soon I am able to achieve democracy depends entirely on how much support the people will give us."

Sunday's turnout for Suu Kyi's appearance was evidence that her status as an icon has not diminished. Crowds began gathering well before the rally's midday start, and there was little security presence from the often heavy-handed junta. Many of those in attendance said they had heard on banned radio stations about Suu Kyi's release and planned rally.

Buddhist monks also were out in force, apparently no longer afraid after their last major display of political dissent in Burma in September 2007: anti-government protests known as the "Saffron Revolution." The monks looked out from the monastery across the street from where Suu Kyi was speaking, and all around Burmese watched from rooftops, doorways and perched in trees to get a better vantage point. Because of the tightly packed crowds, few could see or hear her, but they knew she was there.

"I wanted to talk to her," said Daw Ama, 83, who has witnessed Burma's 48 years of military dictatorship.

Suu Kyi called on Burmese to work together to "lighten the hardships of the people" and mentioned the more than 2,200 political prisoners who continue to occupy the country's jails.

There is no indication of whether her release could be followed by more, or of the junta's response to this weekend's events, said Jared Genser, Suu Kyi's Washington-based international legal counsel.

"I have seen no evidence to suggest that the junta has any interest in engaging in dialogue, compromising, let alone release any other political prisoners," he said in reference to the military government's opaque decision-making process.

Although Suu Kyi talked Sunday of reconciliation and engagement with the military, the regime thus far has not even mentioned her publicly, let alone indicated a desire to engage in dialogue.

It is also unclear how the United States and Europe will react to last week's election and Suu Kyi's release. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary RodhamClinton gave little indication of how the United States would proceed on Burma in separate statements welcoming the end of Suu Kyi's detention Saturday.

"Now is the time for the U.S. government to both increase pressure on and engagement with the regime," Genser said.

Finch is a special correspondent.

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