Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest this past Saturday; her third release in a series of arrests and confinements over the past 15 years, all put in place by Burma’s junta government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The international community received notification of her release in the past couple months with cynicism, it’s not difficult to understand why as the SPDC is not known for its civility, honesty nor accommodating ways. For over 40 years Burma’s military-run government has controlled the lives of ethnic minorities and Burmans, and in the most inhumane ways – the long list of over 2,000 political prisoners, the high number of child soldiers and porters the government and armies warrant and the social, political and human destruction to the lives of ethnic minorities has caused significant instability in-country as well as within the region. Neighboring Thailand, Bangladesh and border areas are displaced homes to thousands of ethnic minorities, a near dozen refugee camps rest within these spaces and its ties to Russia and China have created an uncertain system of support within ASEAN nations.
With the end to Suu Kyi’s detention, it has, I think, the international community in a mixed state of hope and caution, wondering what will happen next. The government has certainly not been shy to reinstate her house arrest which leads one to automatically question, how long will she be free? Does the government have ulterior motives for her release? What are her plans? While the celebrations for the Nobel Prize laureate are well-deserved and should occur, I can’t help but wonder how progress and action will coalesce in the days ahead as the possibility of Suu Kyi’s requested talks – with the government’s military leader, General Than Shwe, the man responsible for her confinement – are confirmed.
The people of Burma have unsurprisingly responded to her new freedom with unwavering support – during an interview with the BBC, Aung San Suu Kyi comments on whether she would be audible above the level of noise outside her home after being released. Citizens, locals, ethnic minorities and the international community are all cheering in her favor. What will this leader of democracy and iconic figure for Burma’s future bring forth to a still military-backed regime? What honesty exists in a government that recently held national elections, where polling fraud, election scandals and voter registration reported to reflect minimal consistency (one quarter of the seats in parliament are quoted already assigned to military officials regardless of the election’s outcome)?
I try not to be partisan in my comments or thoughts on Burma’s situation, but after working in close contact with ethnic minorities who experienced the iron-fisted rule it’s hard not to look at their situation without compassion, fear and a critical-eye toward the SPDC. It is with hope that the months ahead reflect progress, deliberation, and thoughtfulness on the way forward for the entire country. That the ethnic minorities in Karen, Kayah and outlying states experience a decline in escaping to the jungle after a recent attack on their village, and the rebel groups and government officials work toward a sustainable reconciliation…that the insecure and uncertain future that has existed for so many of them in past decades turns into a distant memory replaced with the determined spirit they’ve carried within themselves for so long.