AUNG San Suu Kyi has spent fourteen of the last twenty years under house arrest in Burma. Yet in the fleeting meetings she has been allowed to hold with a few Western diplomats in the past year she has managed to maintain her composure and even to show her engaging smile. Is there any possibility that America's recent overtures to the Burmese military government might result in some amelioration of her conditions? It is generally assumed that the Burmese leaders want to keep her out of sight in the months leading up to next year's elections; despite her isolation she is still the recognised leader of the National League for Democracy, which actually won last open elections held in the country in 1990, and keeps the loyalty of its members.

During his extended visit to Asia President Obama has taken the opportunity to appeal almost directly to the current Burmese leadership to let Suu Kyi go free. He was the first American President since Lyndon Johnson in 1966 to attend a meeting of the Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore at which Burma is also represented. The protocol people had to be on the alert to ensure that Mr Obama and the Burmese prime minister, Thein Sein, were not next to each other when the time came for a linked-hands official photograph to be taken. But at least they breathed the same air.


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