Peter Popham: Suu Kyi's fight for release

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The Independent Online

Scarcely a week goes by without some mildly heart-warming news emerging about Aung San Suu Kyi. She succeeded in sending a letter to Burma's strongman, Senior General Than Shwe, asking for a meeting. She was permitted to meet a group of foreign diplomats. She was allowed to go to a hotel in downtown Rangoon to meet Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state, where she the press photographed her. Now she has once again been let out of her home, this time to meet senior members of her party, the National League for Democracy.

But these concessions need to be seen in perspective. General Than Shwe has not replied to her letter, and the regime's daily paper has bizarrely accused Suu Kyi of being "insincere" and "dishonest" for sending hers. The US's Burma policy has shifted under President Obama to one of wary engagement, there is no indication that the diplomatic meetings have brought the regime any closer to agreeing to America's and Europe's demand for Suu Kyi's unconditional release.

Then yesterday came Suu's meetings with senior members of her party, "the uncles", at which they agreed to her request to reorganise the party, which has become steadily more geriatric over the years. Again, some perspective: the meeting, their first for nearly two years, lasted all of 45 minutes. She had asked permission to see each of them in their homes, as they are all unwell, but a single meeting at the usual guest house was the most that would be granted. Excluded from the meeting was the most important of her party colleagues, former General Tin Oo, who like her has been locked up in his home since 2003. She and Tin Oo have not met now for more than six years.

It must be refreshing for Suu Kyi to get out of the house once in a while, but to see the beginnings of a real Burmese thaw in these events would be extravagant. There are more than 2,000 political prisoners in Burma - twice the number that there were before the 2007 uprising. Burma's generals have become expert over the years at toying with foreign opinion. If a regime wanted to do the minimum possible to suggest movement and flexibility, this is what they would do. There is nothing yet to suggest that it is anything more than that.