Suu Kyi set to confront government

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AUNG SAN Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's opposition, says she is ready for another major confrontation with the Government and prepared to go to jail.

Speaking to The Independent, in her first interview since returning to Rangoon, following a 13-day stand-off in a van with the authorities, Ms Suu Kyi looked frail but unshaken in her determination to raise the stakes in her political struggle.

I met Burma's democracy leader in the crumbling home of Bohmu Aung. He is one of five surviving members of the group of "Thirty Comrades" who, along with Ms Suu Kyi's father, Aung San, are revered as the founding fathers of independent Burma.

Yesterday he was celebrating his 79th birthday, in spite of military intelligence officers milling around, aggressively photographing and videoing everyone who had dared to show up at the former general's house.

In an upstairs room, Ms Suu Kyi, 53, spoke of her ordeal at the tiny bridge where she was stopped by the authorities after attempting to leave the capital to visit members of her National League for Democracy (NLD).

She refused all food and water supplied by the military and lightly dismissed their attempt to belittle her protest by sending Madonna and Michael Jackson tapes to entertain her. Although some reports of the state of her health have been alarming, she insisted that she was "okay", albeit under medical supervision and trying to eat more to regain weight.

Her doctor has told her that she should be under medical observation but she insisted she had no time to lie in bed. Instead she is working on a plan to convene the parliament elected in 1990 after the NLD won an overwhelming victory but was not allowed to take its seats in the legislature. The NLD set a 21 August deadline for the authorities to convene Parliament but there was no response. Last week, after the deadline expired, students in the capital dared to hold the first demonstration since 1996.

A Government spokesman,Lt-Col Hla Min, said: "If they call a national parliament this means they are making themselves a parallel government.

"We don't want to take harsh actions but the Government's priority is national security."

He accused Mrs Suu Kyi of "trying to derail the stability of the country as a whole''. The Government would consider declaring the NLD "an illegal organisation" meaning that its members would be liable for arrest.

"We have to tell them frankly," he said. "If you walk on this path, you're not giving us much choice." He added: "What is more important national security or unrest?"

Ms Suu Kyi's response is uncompromising. "If they try to do that it is they who are breaking the law. We are doing nothing illegal," she said.

Her party is "obviously prepared for the worst ... everybody who is a member of the NLD is psychologically prepared to go to jail at any time".

Ms Suu Kyi would not say how or when any attempt would be made to convene Parliament but made it clear that there would be no need to wait "weeks or months".

She believed her 13-day vigil on the bridge promoted "greater unity between the forces of democracy".

In her absence, negotiations were conducted with other opposition parties elected to the 1990 parliament. The deputy general secretary of the NLD, Tin Oo, said that another four parties had agreed to join the NLD in the reconveying of parliament.

Ms Suu Kyi insisted that she was not disappointed that there were not more protests to mark the failure to convene the parliament on 21 August and to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 1988 massacre of democracy protesters on 8 August.

She was impressed student organisations had unilaterally decided to take to the streets. Their courage "was quite astonishing", she said, considering that the universities have been closed for the last two years and that they had no legal means of assembly.

Ms Suu Kyi insisted that support for the democracy movement was growing although the military government's tight control over the country made it difficult to express.

However, Lt-Col Hla Min scoffed at the idea of widespread support. "The population of this country is not interested in what the NLD has to say," he said. They are more interested in food on the table."

He said it was not possible to include Aung San Suu Kyi in talks because she was not "an officially recognised leader". However, he said: "We do not rule out anything."