Suu Kyi marks 4,000 days as a prisoner

Another milestone in the long misery of the Burmese people passed yesterday, when the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi marked her 4,000th day under house arrest.

We have no idea how she passed the day. Did she coax some notes out of the ancient piano in the family villa on Rangoon's Inya Lake, where she was first confined way back in 1988? Did she meditate or practise yoga, two of the disciplines which we know have helped her to maintain her health? There is no way of knowing because, apart from a maid, Suu Kyi is entirely alone.

Perhaps she went out into the garden - it's hot and sticky in Rangoon this week, with temperatures ranging from 75 to 84F and scattered thunderstorms forecast - and took a scythe to the encroaching vegetation. About the only thing we have learned since the last milestone, her 61st birthday in June, is that she is no longer allowed help to keep the garden in shape. In the tropics, that's a serious problem. Suu Kyi's supporters fear there could be venomous snakes out there.

The 4,000th-day milestone, like all other news pertaining to Suu Kyi, found no mention in the official news media of Myanmar, as the junta refers to the country. It is said that the regime's strongman, Than Shwe, refuses to allow her name even to be mentioned in his presence.

This week the regime has been allowing foreign journalists into the country, which is unusual. The reason is that it wants to show the outside world that the country is proceeding down the so-called "road map to democracy" which it announced 13 years ago.

To try to quell the voices demanding that it hands over power to Suu Kyi and her party, in 1993 the regime with much fanfare set up a National Convention to begin considering a new constitution. One thousand delegates are arriving in Rangoon from around the country, the official media reported, to participate in the first meeting of the Convention for eight months, which begins today.

Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in elections held in 1990, a victory the regime refused to recognise. Suu Kyi, the daughter of Aung San, the hero of Burma's independence movement, had already been put under house arrest before the election was held.

Speaking to the press in Rangoon yesterday, the Information Minister, Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, conceded that the NLD had won a majority of seats in 1990, but said the voters did not know what they were doing. Those who voted for it, he said, "did not scrutinise its politics or capabilities and the background history of its candidates". Accusing the party of refusing to compromise with the military, he added: "Now, there is no reason to meet or discuss again with the NLD."

The NLD walked out of the Convention in 1995, complaining that it was rigged. In 1996 it was adjourned and did not meet for the next eight years. The Information Minister said: "Those who attempt to undermine the National Convention will be crushed with the people's strength."

The constitutional meeting comes less than a fortnight after the UN Security Council formally discussed Burma for the first time. The United States, strongly supported by Britain, has been arguing strenuously that the Security Council should act on Burma because, with the unending repression of ethnic minorities on its borders and with the huge drugs trade it fosters, it is a "threat to international peace and security".

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