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US journalist upsets Burma exiles

July 24, 2009 (DVB), An article published in the US and reprinted in a Burmese state-run newspaper that appeared to criticise Aung San Suu Kyi's political tactics has been met with alarm by Burmese politicians and exiled activists.

The Huffington Post, a liberal online magazine based in New York, last week carried an opinion piece entitled 'The Future of Burma Cannot Be Tied to Aung San Suu Kyi'.

The author, Virginia M Moncrieff, said that Suu Kyi's imprisonment has only added to her "near-secular saint status", a tactic that is "self-defeating".

She followed by saying that her policy of sanctions "is fundamentally flawed" and that isolating the regime "only helps the junta reverse further into mad "behind-the-wall" strategies".

The result, according to Moncrieff, was that "she is penalizing the very people she aims to assist".

Sections of the article were republished yesterday in the government mouthpiece Myanma Ahlin newspaper, although Moncrieff's attempts to balance the piece with criticism and praise became the victim of underhand editing.

Sentences such as "what has happened to this extraordinary woman is of course criminal", were changed to "this woman has broken the law", while the ending, which called for Suu Kyi's release, was absent.

Yet the article still provoked a reaction from some members of the Burmese exile community, who are closely following the Suu Kyi trial, which ends today.

"There are groups and individuals working to bring democracy to the country and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a leading role model for all these people," said Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP).

Khin Omar, head of the Network for Democracy and Development who read both versions of the article, said that she "completely disagreed" with the criticisms of Suu Kyi, particularly those that claim she doesn't favour negotiation with the regime.

"In reality, she was the one holding a non-violence policy and has been fighting to find an answer to the problems through dialogue with all [political and ethnic] groups participating," she said.

It is widely expected that Suu Kyi's trial will end in a guilty verdict, and the charges brought against her carry a maximum five year sentence.

The past six years of Suu Kyi's house arrest have seen restrictions on movement and communication increasingly tightened, and this will likely continue in the lead-up to the 2010 elections.

Reacting to whether her imprisonment will cripple the future of Burma's democracy movement, the coordinator of advocacy network ALTSEAN-Burma, Debbie Stothard, said that Suu Kyi's role "goes beyond being a prisoner".

"She's a prisoner because she's been an effective campaigner and leader of this movement," she said.

"If she was no longer effective, the regime would no longer see her as a threat and she would not be imprisoned."

Reporting by Thurein Soe


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