TODAY is the 60th birthday of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the non-violent democratic movement in Myanmar (Burma) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She will spend her birthday alone, under house arrest in Rangoon; she is not allowed visitors except for the doctor when necessary and two women who help in the house. In 1990 Suu Kyi, who had left her husband and family in Britain to respond to calls to return to her country, led the National League for Democracy to victory in elections with 392 of the 485 contested seats. Although the Army had called the election and said it would “honour” the result, it refused to hand over power and, instead, began a campaign of harrassment and repression against Suu Kyi's supporters. Its aim was to force Suu Kyi out of the country but she refused to go, preferring to remain through almost 15 years of house arrest and occasional freedom quickly curtailed. Many members of the National League for Democracy have been arrested and tortured or forced into exile. In 1999 when Suu Kyi's husband was dying of cancer the Army refused permission for him to visit her and she refused to leave Myanmar to see him because she knew she would not be allowed back.

Myanmar is a pariah state but the international community seems unwilling to engage with the problem of what to do about it. Messages of support are sent to Suu Kyi, which she probably does not receive, and demonstrations are organised outside Myanmar embassies. But stronger measures such as sanctions are not thought likely to be effective against a regime that already operates a shoe-string economy, although it is believed that Suu Kyi's party would support them. There seems no way of dealing with outcast states such as Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, the world's most famous political prisoner and Nobel Laureate, marks her 60th birthday alone with only her principles and her hope to keep her company.


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