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Letter From Burma-1997(3) By Daw Au

Subject: Letter From Burma-1997(3) By Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

 Copyright 1997 Mainichi Daily News
                              Mainichi Daily News

                             April  7, 1997, Monday


LENGTH: 1310 words

HEADLINE: Season ripples with riots and revolutioLetter from  Burma (No. 3)

   By Aung San Suu Kyi

   Summer in  Burma  is the months of March and April, when the temperature
creeps up steadily, sapping strength and snapping tempers. The air is redolent
with the scent of jasmines and mango trees begin to put forth tiny green fruit,
hard and sour, best eaten with a dip of salty fish sauce and hot powdered
chillies.  Summer is also the time when we start preparing for our New Year
which takes place in mid-April and those who believe in astrology, which is to
say the majority of the Burmese people, study predictions for the coming 12
Last year, I wrote of the way in which the authorities took steps to prevent
the National League for Democracy (NLD) from carrying out Buddhist ceremonies in
accordance with our New Year traditions. The result was that a ceremony for
paying respect to elders planned by members of our party had to take place in
the middle of the street near a cross-roads. Writing of this episode I concluded
that "it seemed an omen that the NLD would not lack public attention during the
coming year." Looking back, this remark seems remarkably prophetic, a prediction
that would do any astrologer credit. Over the past year we have received an
inordinate amount of attention from the authorities as well as from the media
and the public.

   Hardly a day goes by without an article or two in the state-controled
newspapers vilifying me or other leaders of the NLD or the supposed activities
of the party. Every time there is a sign of public unrest or opposition to the
military government, or a controversial incident, or an undesirable situation of
any kind, it is promptly attributed by the authorities to the NLD. Rising
prices, student demonstrations, a bomb going off in the inner sanctum of a
sacred relic, communal conflict, even an attack on NLD leaders by hooligans
obviously operating in collaboration with official security forces, the
authorities do no hesitate to point an insinuating finger at our party. The
government either has an extremely high regard for our abilities or has ceased
to be concerned with the truth in its obsessive desire to attack the 
democratic opposition.

   Summer in  Burma  is not a gentle season of balmy breezes and soft sunshine.
It is a harsh season when the heat beats down on a drained and desiccated land.
It is also a season for riots and revolutions, perhaps because people's
tolerance wears thin when the temperature starts to soar.

   And this makes it the season for focusing on the NLD.

   The most significant events this summer so far have taken place in Mandalay,
 Burma  is a land of rumor. A country where there is no freedom of expression
becomes a land of rumor, a society where the merest wisp of what appears to be
news of national importance is grasped with desperation by a people starved of
information. Sometimes there is little substance to the whispered stories and
the tea shop talk that spread around town as quickly as one acquaintance can
catch the eye and capture the ear of another. But sometimes there is solid fact
behind what at first appears to be just a piece of frothy gossip.

   The first intimation that something was amiss in the last bastion of the
Burmese monarchy came when rumors of strange happenings at the Mahamyatmuni
Shrine began to trickle down to Rangoon. It was said that the breast of the
sacred image had been riven in two. While people were still debating on such a
possibility and the implications of so distressing an omen, word came out that
the monks of Mandalay were making an enquiry into a large crack -- some said a
gaping hole -- that had appeared in the thick gold with which devotees had
encrusted the image over the centuries. Fast on the heels of the news about the
enquiry we heard that monks in Mandalay had ransacked mosques because a Buddhist
girl was assaulted by a Muslim man.

   Traditionally, Buddhist and Muslims in Mandalay have maintained harmonious
relations and this sudden eruption of hostilities was a surprise to many. But it
was no surprise when we heard there had been attempts by the authorities to
place the communal tensions at the door of the NLD. According to an official
Information Sheet, "it is very much regretful to learn that some elements who
are bent on creating unrest in the country exploited the situation and managed
to agitate some of the Buddhist religious communities in Mandalay to attack
Muslim communities and some mosques. On the surface, it seems like a religious
clash but it is actually very much politically motivated." I quite agree that
the communal conflicts were probably orchestrated by those with political
motives of some kind but I can say with absolute confidence and a clean
conscience that the NLD has nothing to do with dirty politics of that ilk.

   Although generally referred to as "the opposition," the NLD is the party that
has received the mandate of the people of  Burma  through free and fair
elections, and we have a status to uphold as well as a responsibility to resist
injustice and tyranny and all moves aimed at obstructing a strong united
democratic movement.

   Summer is a season when the spirit of resistance seems to revive in the full
glare of the sun. Resistance ... a term evocative of grit and determination,
risk and sacrifice. Every society which has felt the rough yoke of injustice
will understand the need to cultivate that part of human nature that refuses to
accept meekly whatever oppressors and fate might decide to dole out.

   27 March 1945 was the day when  Burma  rose up in resistance against fascist
military rule. This year once again we celebrated the spirit of justified
resistance by recalling the events of more than half a century ago when the
people of our country decided unitedly that it was time to put an end of a
cruel, unjust system. Among the members of the NLD today, there are veterans of
the independence movement, people who entered politics as young students
demonstrating against colonial rule and who went on to fight for freedom enter
on the civilian front or as soldiers in the  Burma  Independence Army, the
 Burma  Defense Army of the Patriotic Burmese Forces, precursors of the present
day armed forces of  Burma.  That there men, no longer young but still firm of
purpose, are with us today in the struggle to gain for our people the full
rights due to citizens of an independent nation is a matter of great pride for

our party and a source of inspiration for our people. But it is also a matter of
shame for our country that there is still a need for the generation that fought
for independence to continue to labor for the nation of their dreams. At this
time of their lives they should have the right to look back on their
achievements with calm satisfaction as they watch their grandchildren grow to
adulthood in an ordered, prosperous society.

   Political resistance has become so very much a part of our everyday existence
that on summer nights while I lie awake waiting, for the cool breeze to come up
from the lake, I sometimes wonder what it would be like for members of the NLD
once there is no longer a need to exercise the spirit of resistance with a
grinding perseverance. Will they be completely taken up with the task of
reconciliation and reconstruction? or will they suddenly feel the vacuum of a
lack of dangerous challenge and acquire a burning desire to conquer unscaled
mountain peaks and plumb unexplored ocean depths to mop up their excess energy?
After so many years of constant peril, it would be a pleasure to see our people
indulging in such relatively safe activities.

   (This series of "Letter from  Burma"  appears in the Mainichi Daily News on
the first Monday of each month. The Japanese translation of the column appears
in the Mainichi Shimbun on the same day.) LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

LOAD-DATE: April 7, 1997