- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

To the people of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi symbolizes democracy and freedom. Her release last week from house arrest by the drug-trafficking, human-rights-violating, military government of Burma will allow the forces of liberty to gain some traction.

But the military is allowing democracy to gain only so much momentum. No date for elections has even been set. Although the military junta has released about 600 political detainees in recent months, more than 1,000 are still imprisoned. And in 1995, the junta had freed Mrs. Suu Kyi from confinement, only to arrest her again, solely because she tried to leave Burma's capital, Rangoon. In 1991, Mrs. Suu Kyi wasn't even able to collect her Noble Peace Prize, awarded for her courage in confronting the thuggish regime.

The junta claims it is merely serving as the guardian of Burma's stability until the country is ready for democracy. The junta's claim is clearly self-serving, and its 14-year rule clearly exposes its duplicity. The people of Burma have demonstrated they are quite ready for democracy. In 1988, the year the junta took power, the generals crushed mass pro-democracy demonstrations. Mrs. Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, won 82 percent of the seats in parliament in a 1990 election, which the junta promptly nullified.

Since then, many nations have imposed diplomatic sanctions on the regime and restricted foreign aid. The United States cut off all bilateral assistance to Burma in 1988 and doesn't grant it the trade preferences it gives other poor countries. The Clinton administration imposed a ban on new investments in Burma. These measures don't represent traditional trade sanctions, which would ban the country's exports, but appear to have helped prod Rangoon to release Mrs. Suu Kyi. Perhaps the approach used to sanction Burma through diplomatic censure, restriction of aid, and denial of trade preferences could serve as a less draconian yet effective model for penalizing other countries. If Rangoon follows up with other democratically-oriented measures, these sanctions could be gradually dismantled. The Clinton-era ban on investments, for example, could be the first to be relaxed.

But perhaps more significant than the sanctions is the people's unwavering desire for democracy. Mrs. Suu Kyi's resilience and graciousness is also difficult for the junta to counter through brute force. She will surely, some day, set Burma on the path to freedom.


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