Paranoid Burmese junta steps up security around Suu Kyi
It used to be you could ask any taxi driver and they would show you her house.
There could be no stopping and no taking photographs, but they would drive you along Rangoon's University Avenue and you could glimpse the property where Aung San Suu Kyi has spent almost 13 years under house arrest.
Now you cannot even do that. The day after Cyclone Nargis struck, the military authorities ordered that the security around her house be increased. So long a prisoner in her own home, she is now even more isolated from the Burmese people.
Given the devastation wrought by Nargis, one might have assumed the authorities had more pressing priorities. But their decision to block off the house of the leader of Burma's political opposition reveals the junta's concern over the power the 62-year-old woman holds.
After hundreds of monks gathered outside her house during September's pro-democracy demonstrations, the junta is apparently keen to ensure she does not again become a rallying point for people angry and frustrated by the regime's ineffective response to the damage caused by the storm.
Suu Kyi lives with two maids. Her meals are brought in every day – checked by guards outside her house. Foreign diplomats were once permitted to call but that was stopped; her doctor is her only regular visitor. But even those visits, every three weeks, have been halted.
"Whenever they are worried about her influencing the current situation they stop her doctor's visits," said a Western diplomat based in Rangoon. "After last September, her doctor was not allowed to visit until December."
Her unique position is partly the result of an absence of alternative political leaders. Almost all of the organisers of several demonstrations held in Rangoon last summer before the larger protests in September have been jailed. Of the remainder, some have left the country while others are in hiding. Suu Kyi remains the only visible opposition figure.
"Burma's half-million-strong army is terrified of her. She has the love and support of the people. She unites Burma's different political and ethnic groups. This makes her their greatest threat – she unites the people against the regime," said Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK.
"The generals are trying to keep her completely isolated from her people and from the world. Her phone line is cut, they intercept all her post. No visitors are allowed. Her sons are not even allowed into the country and she has grandchildren that she has never seen."
Suu Kyi was last detained in May 2003. In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of the Burmese regime, the generals annually renew her imprisonment with a detention order delivered to her house.
"There may be a lot of younger people who do not agree with everything she says," said another Westerner who lives in Rangoon. "But if she was released everybody would rally around her. The regime is paranoid of the West and they are paranoid of her."
The opposition leader reportedly fills her time reading and meditating. It is unclear whether she still has a radio. She used to play the piano in her house but complained many years ago that it had fallen into disrepair.
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