Thursday, 14 November 2019

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Former US diplomat to Burma expresses concern for Suu Kyi’s security

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A former US chief of mission to Burma has spoken of her concern over security for pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi if she goes ahead with her plans to travel around Burma.

Priscilla Clapp, currently a senior adviser to the Asia Society’s 2010 Burma Policy Task Force, told the Asia Society in a telephone interview from Washington earlier this month that Suu Kyi’s plans to visit various parts of the country soon posed a potential threat to herself and her followers.

Credit: Asia Society

Clapp, who served in Burma from 1999 to 2002, said the newly elected government in Naypyitaw is expecting Suu Kyi ‘to travel at some point because there are no restrictions on her today’.

The situation has changed. ‘Ten years ago or more when she was released, she was only released conditionally; she could not leave the downtown area of Rangoon’, Clapp said.

Suu Kyi’s first forays into the countryside as a politician came about in 1988 and 1989 when she first entered politics and was free to travel and campaign for her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Clapp said she was allowed to move around in 2002-03 and ‘a large number of people came out, and that spooked the military government and created an excuse for detention. I certainly don’t rule out that scenario if the crowds turn out and it is seen as a threat to the stability of the government; they will create an incident’. Suu Kyi faced several threats in 2003 and at least 70 people connected with the NLD were killed by a mob in what is known as the Depayin massacre.

‘I am sure she will be careful about security; that is the main concern of everybody especially what happened to her last time. But I am sure she has thought this through. The government will be on alert, there is no question about it, and will probably not be friendly towards her’.

The former diplomat said that in 2003, Suu Kyi ‘actually had a government security escort and that was a safer situation than today. I have not seen any signs that the government will provide any security service to her. In fact it might be quite the opposite. I am sure she will draw crowds the same way she did before’.

Burmese authorities were caught off guard by Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity during her tour of the country in 2003. Despite years of isolation, her wide popularity endures. Photo: Mizzima File

Suu Kyi has said that it is the duty of the government to provide assurances if she travels.

Clapp said it was difficult to predict how large the crowds will be and whether the government will take any measures to control the people. ‘It is hard to tell whether now that there is an elected government whether it will reduce people’s interest in coming out’, she said.

Clapp said Suu Kyi was the ‘most powerful watchdog’ and will remain a critical figure in Burma’s political landscape.

Burma’s recent democratic election has brought some change, she said, and the structures of government have changed and become more complex. Although there has been a gradual improvement in freedoms available to the Burmese people, it is too early to see a change in terms of the economy and the state of human rights, she said.


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