The “new dawn” that Ms Aung Sang Suu Kyi had seen for Myanmar last May, after her release from house arrest, has long since become the common day. Myanmar’s icon of democracy is back in “protective custody” again. With her are 17 officials of her party, the National League for Democracy, including its vice chairman, Mr U Tin Oo. It is now feared that both Ms Suu Kyi and Mr Tin Oo may be suffering from injuries. Ms Suu Kyi had spent the last month touring north and central Burma, attracting enthusiastic popular support with her indomitable eloquence. Exactly a year into her “freedom”, the junta has caught up with her again. The government has taken her in, after what appears to be a got-up clash between the NLD and the Union Solidarity Development Association, a regime-sponsored body that has increasingly taken on a paramilitary character. On the day of her arrest, Ms Suu Kyi had publicly tried to rally her people against the “injustice and one-sided bullying” of the military regime, under the ironically named State Peace and Development Council. “Truth is strength,” she had declared to that gathering, “but strength is not truth.” The NLD’s goal remains that beleaguered thing, democracy, which she understands to be “a system for rights, safety and freedom”.
None of these exists in Myanmar today. Colleges and universities were completely shut down by the government, in an attempt to break the back of the student-led activism for democracy. But these have partially opened on the eve of the visit of the United Nations envoy. Mr Razali Ismail, who had overseen the earlier talks between Ms Suu Kyi and the general, will demand her release and the government’s commitment to a “genuine process of national reconciliation”. As new sanctions against Myanmar are being pondered by the United States of America, it might be recalled that Myanmar is a resource-rich country which suffers from abject rural poverty and serious macroeconomic imbalances, in spite of the military regime’s attempts to liberalize the economy since the Nineties. There have been repeated violence against Muslims, sometimes led by robed Buddhist monks; there are still more than a thousand political prisoners, victims of the worst kinds of human rights abuse; and the size of the black market and illegal border trade is twice the official economy. Myanmar remains the world’s second largest producer of illicit opium, and has the largest number of child soldiers in the world in its national army and opposition outfits. It is a testimony to Ms Suu Kyi’s mettle that she can still make democracy sound like a possibility in this ravaged nation, just across a border from India.