Burma set to expel Suu Kyi

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The Independent Online
OMINOUS INDICATIONS are coming out of Rangoon, the Burmese capital, that the military regime is preparing to expel Aung San Suu Kyi, the main opposition leader.

The New Light of Myanmar, the regime's mouthpiece newspaper, has run prominent stories alleging that the government is under popular pressure "to drive her out of the country as she has been a menace to the nation and the people".

It is usual for the regime to describe its views as those of the mass of the people. In this instance it is claimed that "mass meetings have branded Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD [National League for Democracy, which she leads] group as the common enemy of the nation".

Television pictures of the meetings suggest that they are anything but spontaneous. Diplomats in the capital say many people are forced to attend and that the presence of civilians is heavily bolstered by government and military personnel.

Pressure on Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD has been building since May when the league tried to convene a national conference. By August Rangoon was witnessing its first street demonstrations in almost a decade. At the same time, Ms Suu Kyi was carrying out a campaign to try to break away from restrictions that prevented her from travelling outside the capital to meet NLD members.

The first hints that Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, should be expelled came in August. A Burmese dissident who has recently left the country said: "It is hard to tell if the military really intends to get rid of her but they don't usually talk about things they don't want to do."

Aung Naing Oo, the foreign affairs secretary of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, based in Bangkok, said: "I don't think they can deport her because she is not a British citizen." Ms Suu Kyi was living in Britain, with Michael Aris, her British husband, until 1988 when she returned home and rapidly emerged as leader of the democracy movement.

The Burmese regime frequently stresses her British connections to imply that she is no longer a real Burmese. "The Burmese military believes in repeating propaganda," Mr Naing Oo said. "They think that if they repeat a big lie a number of times, people will think it's true." He argues that the current campaign against Ms Suu Kyi is principally aimed at strengthening the resolve of the army in the fight against the democracy movement.

Although there have been some low-key attempts at a dialogue between the NLD and the regime and a United Nations envoy, Rajsoomer Lallah, was in the country last week to try to encourage more talks, the government has devoted most of its effort to tightening the screws on the opposition.

Mr Naing says that in the past few weeks, reports of arrests of opposition figures outside the NLD have multiplied. Ms Suu Kyi's party, which is attempting to reconvene the parliament elected in 1990, has been largely immobilised by arrests and harassment.

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