You've been effective ruler of Burma for a few years now: they call you the 'first among equals' in the military government. I wonder how secure you feel about staying in power.

Not very, otherwise you surely would have released your opposition rivals by now. One of them is Aung San Suu Kyi. Remember her. She led the popular movement for democracy in Burma back in 1988 - the movement your soldiers tried to crush with bullets. As Secretary-General of the National League for Democracy she attracted massive crowds to election rallies where she spoke of democracy and human rights. You tried to silence her by putting her under house arrest. Her party still won the election, by a landslide, in July 1990. Not that you cared, since you'd never had any intention of relinquishing power. All in all, abiding by internationai law isn't really one of your strong points.

For example, how long did you say Aung San Suu Kyi would be held under house arrest? Five years, wasn't it?

Well actually, no. When your junta first arrested her on 20 July 1989 (that's five years ago tomorrow, by the way), the law for 'Safeguarding the state from dangerous subversive elements' said she could be held without charge or trial for a maximum of three years. But then in 1991 you bumped up her detention period by a couple more years. In international law it's forbidden to increase a penalty retroactively. And besides, any detention without recourse to judicial process goes against the universal Declaration of Human Rights - to which Burma is a signatory.

In January this year you changed the rules again. Aung San Suu Kyi's first year of detention was only an 'arrest period', you say, and doesn't count towards the total of five years. So you're perfectly justified in keeping her locked up for at least another six months. Admit it, you're just making the rules up as you go along. You don't want to see her released until you've promulgated a new constitution that ensures she'll play no role in Burmese politics. You've already announced that there's to be no place for anyone 'owing allegiance to a foreign power' or whose family owes such allegiance - a far from oblique reference to Aung San Suu Kyi's marriage to an Englishman (though, as you know, she has always kept her Burmese passport). You might as well introduce a law banning from politics persons with four syllables in their name.

Since before her arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi has asked only for one thing: dialogue. She wants the chance to talk with you and your government, to find an answer to Burma's problems through negotiation.

Now you have finally said you will give her the chance to talk. But why the vagueness as to when? Is this yet another stalling tactic? Are you afraid the answer might involve honouring the will of 80 per cent of the Burmese people who voted for democracy four years ago? That it might mean giving up your role as 'first among equals' to someone better suited to that title, in its fullest sense? Someone like Aung San Suu Kyi, for example.


Glenys Kinnock

(Photograph omitted)