Burma dissident allowed US visitor: Politician finds Aung San Suu Kyi in good health and defiant after nearly five years of house arrest

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A US CONGRESSMAN yesterday made an unexpected visit to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader who has seen no one except close family members since she was put under house arrest in July 1989. Ms Suu Kyi was in good health, and adamant that she would not give up her struggle for political freedom in Burma, according to a source who had knowledge of the meeting.

The visit was organised by the military government, and although it raised some hopes that the government might be considering releasing her, diplomats said it was apparently timed to improve the country's image in advance of a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva next week, at which the Burmese government is expected to be widely criticised.

Last month a senior military commander hinted in an interview with Japanese journalists that Ms Suu Kyi's five-year detention order, which expires in July, would not be prolonged any further. Burma has recently been attempting to improve its international image to attract more tourists and foreign investors.

Bill Richardson, a Democrat member of the House of Representatives, spent several hours in Ms Suu Kyi's closely guarded home on University Avenue in Rangoon yesterday morning. According to the source, Ms Suu Kyi, 49, looked healthy and in good spirits, despite her long confinement. 'She was calm and composed and said she did not want anything (food or books) for herself.'

Mr Richardson is attempting to restart dialogue between Ms Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and the military junta, which took power in a bloody coup in 1988 and detained Ms Suu Kyi 10 months later. Ms Suu Kyi, who had become the main leader of the pro-democracy movement, was detained after making a series of speeches highly critical of Ne Win, the ageing general who has held supreme power in Burma since 1962.

Yesterday Ms Suu Kyi told Mr Richardson that she did not rule out the possibility of reaching some accommodation with the military, but on her own terms. 'She indicated some willingness for conciliation and dialogue,' said the source on yesterday's meeting. 'But she won't leave.'

So far the military junta has given Ms Suu Kyi only two options: continued confinement under house arrest in Rangoon or self- imposed exile outside Burma. And Ms Suu Kyi has resolutely refused to leave her native country, despite having a husband and two children living in Oxford.

She believes that once she leaves the military government will never allow her to return, and there will be no pressure on them at all to compromise with the political opposition.

As long as she remains in Rangoon, Ms Suu Kyi is the biggest liability of the government in its attempt to improve the country's image. Next week the UN Human Rights Commission begins a meeting at which Yozo Yokota, the UN special rapporteur, will deliver a report on his visit to Burma at the end of last year. The report is expected to criticise continued human rights abuses in Burma, including the holding of several hundred political prisoners.

(Photograph omitted)