Burma 'still a prison'

Issue 

Burma 'still a prison'

By Jon Lamb

No official announcement was made by SLORC that Aung San Suu Kyi's detention had ended, but word travelled fast around Rangoon, and her residence was quickly surrounded by supporters. Suu Kyi held meetings with members of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and then her first press conference.

Burmese students who had been staging a hunger strike since July 7 outside the Burmese embassy in Canberra echoed Suu Kyi's "cautious optimism", one student stating that "the whole of Burma still remains a prison".

Pro-democracy activists believe SLORC's motivation for the release is an effort to speed up foreign aid and investment in the ailing economy.

Once one of the wealthiest nations in the region, Burma has become one of the world's poorest. Per capital GNP has fallen below $200, less than one-third its 1960 level. Over half the population has no access to health services or safe drinking water, and some 30% of the annual budget is spent on arms. All educational institutions have been closed in three out of the last six years.

SLORC is feeling more confident following military successes against insurgent forces earlier this year. The laws which were used to detain Suu Kyi are still in existence, and SLORC has recently amended the constitution to prevent a woman becoming head of state (the next head of state has already been chosen from the ranks of SLORC anyway!).

International pressure from NGOs, solidarity activists and Burmese in exile was instrumental in winning the release of Suu Kyi. One Burma solidarity activist told Green Left, "The release is a positive signal, but there need to be more serious steps from SLORC to negotiate with the opposition and implement democratic reform. We need to keep up the international pressure to make the most of this recent development, otherwise nothing will really change for the Burmese people."

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