Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Muzzled Opposition in Burma Takes Heart

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Muzzled Opposition in Burma Takes Heart

Article excerpt

IN the week since Burma's military released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her followers have geared up to intensify their struggle for complete democracy.

"She is our recognized national leader," says one top student leader interviewed clandestinely, "but her release doesn't mean Burma has suddenly become democratic. We will continue organizing from below to overthrow the military."

The military junta, known as the State Law and Order Council (SLORC), jailed Ms. Suu Kyi in 1989, a year before her political party won overwhelming in national elections and prevented it from taking power.

SLORC has largely crushed organized resistance through a combination of harsh repression and clever political initiatives, according to opposition sources. However, the release of Suu Kyi will likely give new impetus to the democracy movement, they say.

"The SLORC has a very good intelligence network, and at the same time, they are very ruthless," says O Maung Maung, head of Burmese Trade Union Federation, who now lives in Bangkok. He says intelligence agents have effectively intimidated or arrested activists, making open political resistance difficult in the cities. "There is no freedom of association, no free press, no freedom of political activity of any kind," says one top political party leader still in Rangoon. "Only the students remain militant."

A student leader estimates that Burma now has 2,000 formal political prisoners. A 1994 US State Department human rights report puts the number at "500 or more." Release of all political prisoners remains a key demand of the pro-democracy forces.

Opposition leaders say harsh economic conditions within Burma, also known as Myanmar, may well spark popular resistance. Inflation was 32 percent in 1993, the latest year for which statistics are available. …

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