Free and fit, Myanmar's Suu Kyi vows new challenges to junta

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The Independent Online

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from two weeks of virtual house arrest Friday and vowed to call the bluff of the military regime which has blocked her from doing political organizing outside the capital.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from two weeks of virtual house arrest Friday and vowed to call the bluff of the military regime which has blocked her from doing political organizing outside the capital.

"Stop us if you dare," she challenged the country's military rulers, shortly after reopening the headquarters of her National League for Democracy. It had been closed and searched by police while the party's leaders were held incommunicado.

"I shall be traveling outside Rangoon (Yangon) within the next 10 days for party organizational work," Suu Kyi said at a news conference at the headquarters.

She did not say where she planned to travel, but said it was "high time" that the ruling junta stopped putting restrictions on her party members' rights. On Thursday the military government announced it was lifting restrictions against Suu Kyi and eight other NLD leaders confined to their homes since Sept. 1.

The crackdown had drawn vehement international criticism, especially from the United States and Britain, which accused the regime of blatantly violating the Myanmar opposition leaders' political rights.

Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful struggle for democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, but spent from 1989-1995 under house arrest.

On Aug. 24 this year, she and 14 party colleagues were blocked by security forces outside Yangon as they were traveling to a party meeting in the countryside. They refused to return home and camped beside their vehicles for nine days, until the police took them back to the capital and confined them to their residences.

Suu Kyi said Friday she been brought back to Yangon "by force" and some of her youth supporters had been beaten up and handcuffed. She was welcomed by 200 supporters and diplomats when she arrived at the party headquarters, holding red and pink roses given by well-wishers.

Observers said she appeared to have lost a slight bit of weight during her ordeal but that she looked healthy and cheerful.

Suu Kyi said party officials were checking to see if documents had been confiscated by the authorities who raided the NLD's simple two-story downtown office on Sep. 2. Locks on some cupboards had been changed.

After the lifting of restrictions Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in welcoming the developments. But he urged the government to hold a "a substantive political dialogue" with opposition leaders, including Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi thanked the international community for its support.

"We hope that they'll stand by us staunchly for full restoration of rights not just of the NLD but for all the people of Myanmar," she said. A commentary Friday in the Kyemon newspaper, a mouthpiece of the regime, accused the United States and Britain of interfering in Myanmar's internal affairs by aiding the "internal traitors" - a thinly veiled reference to the NLD.

The NLD said Friday that authorities had arrested 15 of its upcountry members since Sept. 2, and an NLD elected member of parliament, Naing Naing, and two other party members in Yangon on Thursday. "That is an unacceptable situation. While they had lifted restrictions on one hand, they started arresting our people," Suu Kyi said. "Nothing has been resolved."

The NLD won general elections in 1990, but was prevented from taking power. Hundreds of its members have since been jailed. The military has rejected NLD calls for a political dialogue.

The party said it repeated its call Thursday in a rare meeting between the NLD chairman Aung Shwe and the third-ranking leader of the junta, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt.

"We said the door for dialogue is always open. We also said that we're not going to sit and wait for the dialogue," Suu Kyi said.

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