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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Political Prisoner

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi turns 64:
we all still need her, and must do more.
David Calleja

On 19th June, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will turn 64 years old. Instead of being amongst loved ones and the millions of people in Burma who revere her for standing up for human and civil rights, she is in isolation.
There is a genuine possibility that in just a few days, Daw Suu Kyi may be sentenced to five years imprisonment in Insein Prison.
Or the cruel agony of further trial delays may be extended.

We all want to be part of a global visitor’s line, wish her happy birthday and see her freed. The groundswell demanding her release matches that given to Nelson Mandela, and rightly so, for Daw Suu Kyi is the world’s greatest female leader.

But thanks to the paranoid leader of the Burmese military junta, Senior General Than Shwe, Daw Suu Kyi may never get to see the light of day again.

Daw Suu Kyi’s trial has been delayed once more. The junta are using every trick in the book to discredit her. They run the courts, appoint the judges and write the laws, and when all else fails, the regime resorts to ridiculous propaganda.

The Burmese Embassy in Hong Kong has declared that, John William Yettaw, the American accused of breaking into Daw Suu Kyi’s compound is Daw Suu Kyi’s "boyfriend" and intended on staying over at her residence. Maybe the junta were scared that a real life Rambo was on the loose, for their real intention is to keep her out of the limelight and break up the National League for Democracy’s bid for worldwide support.

Senior General Than Shwe's dream will be complete when the military junta fixes the 2010 polls to guarantee victory. For the despotic regime, this will erase the bitter memories of 1990, when the National League for Democracy won 392 out of 452 seats. Only then will the issue of redemption be addressed. For us, it will be another failure to help the innocent people of Burma.

The proposed election set for 2010 is a circus act. Senior General Than Shwe is the ringmaster armed with whips and any other instruments of pain at his disposal. More than 50 million civilians are attempting to maintain their balance on a tightrope. The military regime is swaying both ends of a rapidly fraying rope, thus controlling the destiny and force in which the nation and people may crash. The concerned international community represent the crowd watching in horror from the stands, helpless at any disaster unfolding.

The safety net that may well prevent yet another massacre, in the form of intervention from China and India’s public condemnation, has not been cast.

And somewhere in there, Australia has also failed to demonstrate any leadership. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been far too quiet.

For years, previous governments on both sides of the political spectrum have been asking for a more inclusive role in Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Rudd now has the chance to showcase his regional leadership capabilities by succeeding where ASEAN and individual nations have failed.

But rather than show genuine leadership and criticising General Than Shwe for his regime's treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the thousands of political prisoners in jail and millions of civilians living in fear of their lives, Prime Minister Rudd is adopting a WWJD, or What Would John (Howard) Do, approach.

The previous Prime Minister would have found solace in opting for the safer moral high ground in sticking to domestic issues that would have earned political points. Prime Minister Rudd, it seems, is no different.

The Prime Minister likes using punchy catchphrases that represent the public’s feelings. Having already referred to people smugglers as "scum of the earth" and telling the ABC network’s Chasers War On Everything team to "hang their heads in shame", it is disappointing to see that his absence of a brutally honest statement depicts a lack of political leverage and points scoring in naming Senior General Than Shwe exactly what he is; a bloodthirsty natural born killer.

Perhaps it is Prime Minister Rudd that needs to hang his head in shame for not being strong enough when it really counts by referring to the military leadership as war criminals. In the form of survivor testimony about the tactics used by the regime, there is no shortage of proof that a genocide that we cannot afford to keep silent about is taking place as we speak.

What does the Prime Minister have to lose in stating the obvious? He may be referred to as an external destructive element by the regime-controlled media, but anybody disagreeing with the junta will expect that. Or does he not want to rile China, Burma’s ally and neighbours to the north? Agreeing to keep quiet is tantamount and not meddle with internal affairs is a convenient way to threaten all opponents to shut up.

Any nation that publicly calls for free and fair elections in Burma in 2010 is blindly endorsing an illegitimate plan that should never be condoned in the first place. These proposed elections are born out of a fraudulent constitutional referendum held in May 2008, immediately after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma.

The referendum promising democratic elections gained 92 per cent approval without a single question being raised as to their validity, and enshrined a requirement of 25 per cent of all parliamentary seats being reserved for the military. Under Burma’s constitution, a minimum of 75 per cent is required to make any changes to the country’s laws.

What originally commenced as a roar of disapproval over the denial of natural justice to Daw Suu Kyi and indeed the entire civilian population of Burma has now ground to a halt. Now the dissenting voices amount to a regional whisper and are in danger of following the ineffective road taken by Ibrahim Gambari, the Special Envoy for Burma representing the United Nations.

The latest diplomatic failure is from Singapore's Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong.

Having spent four days inside Burma, Tong indicated that the junta would best serve the national interests by using a "cautious but practical approach". He even appeared to defend Senior General Than Shwe’s handling of the process by declaring that Shwe could not be blamed for the lack of process because he inherited a military dictatorship that was installed back in 1962.

Goh Chok Tong’s words present the overtures that the military junta likes to hear. In saying that no country should get involved in domestic affairs, this gives the clearest indication yet that no foreign state wishes to have blood on their hands by challenging Burma.

No doubt the military regime leaders have been keeping a close eye on developments in Iran. Silently they will already be vowing that no such scenes will be tolerated on the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay and every other city and town in Burma. Their youth network, the Union and Solidarity Development Association (or USDA, of which Senior General Than Shwe is the main patron) has already been active in keeping Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters away from her trial, and will be undoubtedly be mobilised for the 2010 election. The junta’s network has rightly been compared to the Hitler Youth movement.

The growing demand for change, while showing similarities to Burma’s ill-fated 1988 and 2007 protests, is unlikely to produce the same catastrophic results in which more than 3,000 people were slaughtered by the junta collectively. Recent accusations of electoral fraud and protests in Tehran by supporters of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi have seen mass crowds take to the streets but the foreign media have had a chance to get into Iran to report on the dissent and in some cases, speak to the people. This is something Burma’s junta-controlled media would never let happen.

If the junta's responses brutal responses to the last two uprisings are a guide, we will all be clowns on a unicycle juggling grenades. Before abandoning Burma’s civilians in their darkest hours, it is time to re-visit Martin Niemoller's famous words.

"...Then they came for me, and by that time nobody was left to speak up..."

We all want Daw Suu Kyi to have her cake and eat it too. Being the graceful and eloquent woman that she is, Daw Suu Kyi would ensure that the people in Burma are all fed first.

Only Daw Suu Kyi can unite a people terrified by decades of war and trauma. The consequences of the military regime blowing out the candles first will result in Burma and the international being plunged into darkness before the gunshots ring out, making a mockery of the promise never again.

For Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday present, let us keep the candles of hope burning brightly and tell Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and all parliamentary representatives in Australia in a clear unified voice that she must be released immediately and unconditionally. Because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is Burma’s only true hope for a civilian democracy to bloom. The price of failure is simply too gruesome to imagine.

Bringing Aung San Suu Kyi Into a Cambodian Classroom
David Calleja
Raising awareness of the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi among students through music in rural Cambodia leaves a song in their heart.

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