Rumours swirl in Burma over Suu Kyi release

Rumour and speculation about the imminent release of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi swept across Burma on Friday but there was no word from the country’s secretive military rulers about whether she would be freed.

Web boards and news media went into overdrive amid a flurry of rumours that the charismatic leader of Burma’s fight against dictatorship was set to walk free when her latest period of house arrest term expires on Saturday.

Reports quoted government insiders, state officials and well-connected sources as saying the country’s reclusive leader, Senior General Than Shwe, had signed an order for her release.

But in one of the world’s most secretive states, few outside the junta strongman’s inner circle really know what is going on. Analysts and Burma-based diplomats say even his ministers are kept in the dark.

One government official said he believed Suu Kyi would be released but he could not confirm it.

“This is the nature of Than Shwe and his regime,” said David Mathieson, a Burma specialist with Human Rights Watch based in neighbouring Thailand.

“Government people don’t know, Suu Kyi’s party doesn’t know and the experts certainly don’t know. No one knows any more than anyone else. We know her house arrest expires on Saturday and everything else is all within the realm of speculation.”

Burma held its first elections in 20 years last Sunday which was won by the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party. The vote was widely seen as flawed and fraudulent to ensure victory for the ruling generals’ proxy.

With the election out of the way, the regime might seek to win some international legitimacy by freeing Suu Kyi at a time when she is little threat to the formation of a government it can choose and control.

Lawyers for Suu Kyi’s now-defunct National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won the last election in 1990 but was never allowed to govern, said they had heard nothing but said they felt confident she would be freed as scheduled.

Crowds gather
Dozens of people waited on the street outside her tightly guarded, crumbling lakeside home in Rangoon as rumours swirled she would be freed.

About 400 people gathered in front of the headquarters of her party, many holding placards with her picture. Police shouted at the crowd to make way for traffic, a Reuters witness said. But many believe expectation of her release is wishful thinking at such a critical juncture in a transition from dictatorship to army-dominated democracy.

The junta might see the release of Suu Kyi, the hugely popular daughter of Burma’s independence hero, as a threat to its political process as a new government has yet to be formed.

In a county where the courts always favour the military, there could be any number of reasons the authorities could use to detain Suu Kyi beyond the 18 months she was given for allowing an American intruder to stay at her home for two nights last year.

Her unexpected visitor, John Yettaw, swam across a lake to her home to warn Suu Kyi “terrorists” would try to kill her, and God had sent him to save her.

The NLD, which was dissolved for boycotting Sunday’s election, continues to operate illegally and some see that as a possible pretext to keep her locked up.

“I think the regime has been lenient with the NLD to lay a trap for her,” said a retired civil servant.

Suu Kyi was first detained in 1989 and freed for the first time in 1995. She was detained again in 2000, released in 2002 and detained again in 2003 after she and some supporters were attacked by a gang on a trip to the provinces.

“I think she will be released but I am really worried about her safety,” said roadside vendor Ma Kyi.

“May God take care of her.” – Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: George Euvrard, the brains behind our cryptic crossword

George Euvrard spoke to Athandiwe Saba about his passion for education, clues on how to solve his crosswords and the importance of celebrating South Africa.

Poachers in prisons tell their stories

Interviews with offenders provide insight into the structure of illegal wildlife trade networks

More top stories

No one should be as rich as Elon Musk

The reactions to Elon Musk’s billionaire status are evidence that far too many South Africans have not fully grasped the destructive consequences of inequality. Entrepreneur...

Department of basic education edges closer to releasing matric results

The basic education department has said that it is almost done with the marking process and that the capturing of marks is in progress.

The rare fairytale of Percy Tau

Through much hard work and a bit of good fortune, the South African attacker has converted a potential horror story into magic

Somali troops may have been drawn into Ethiopia’s civil war

The Mail & Guardian spoke to Somalis about their relatives who disappeared after signing up for military training and fear they may have been killed

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…