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Peter Popham: Suu Kyi's fate is inextricably linked with Burma's future


Yesterday, nothing happened in Burma. Again.

Two thousand two hundred political prisoners continued to languish in its squalid jails. Thousands of exiles scattered from Thailand to Perth to Oslo continued to make ends meet as best they could. And a petite woman on the edge of old age continued to measure her life by the few square yards of the Rangoon home where her political party was born 21 years ago.

Suu Kyi's sentence of detention for the crime of allowing an American fool (or was he a secret agent?) to stay in her house after swimming across Inya Lake is due to expire today. Yet no one can be sure if they will honour it.

Then came the first firm news: Special Branch had brought the release warrant to her house, "100 per cent affirmative", according to sources, and all she had to do was sign the paperwork. The Suu Kyi buzz, the excitement this former Oxford housewife and part-time MA student provokes every time she lifts a finger, was at work again.

In the airport of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, a fresh-faced former Rangoon University professor huddled with NLD colleagues to discuss their moves when she is freed. Nyo Ohn Myint was among the first to urge Suu Kyi to claim the leadership of Burma's chaotic democracy movement in 1988.

An exile for 20 years, today he lives in Chiang Mai and is head of the party's foreign affairs committee. If Suu Kyi is freed he must be ready with answers about what she plans to do with her freedom: the years of futile inactivity will be replaced by frenetic work, endless interviews. He has been preparing for that, making plans via her lawyers. But until she is freed again they mean nothing.

How can the liberation of one woman mean so much, when the situation in Burma is so bleak? "She's not just the secretary-general of our party," Nyo Ohn Myint said. "She's on a different level: all the opposition leaders follow her, the students, the expatriate groups, the parties that split off from the NLD to fight the election; the head of the National Democratic Force said he will happily dissolve his party if Suu Kyi asks him to.

"She is the key chain: all the parties, all the keys, fit on to it. She's going to be the political centre, the focus, and this will give her the leverage to get dialogue with the regime started again." But first the key must turn in her lock.