Sunday, 14 November 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi 'willing to meet Burma's generals'

Ms Suu Kyi said her party was investigating allegations of fraud in the elections

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has told the BBC she is willing to meet its military leaders to help work towards national reconciliation.

A day after her release from house arrest, she said it was time to "sort out our differences across the table".

Ms Suu Kyi also said she intended to listen to what the Burmese people and her international supporters wanted as she planned her next steps.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention.

World leaders and human rights groups have welcomed her release.

US President Barack Obama said it was "long overdue", while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Ms Suu Kyi was an "inspiration", and urged Burma to free all its remaining 2,200 political prisoners.

The move came six days after Burma held its first elections in 20 years, which was won by the biggest military-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but widely condemned as a sham.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last election in 1990, but was never allowed to take power. It was disbanded by the military authorities after it decided to boycott last week's polls.

'Not fearful'

In her first interview since being released, Ms Suu Kyi told the BBC's Alastair Leithead in Bangkok by telephone that one of the first things she had to do was "to listen to what the people have to say".

"The only thing is that if you talk to a large crowd, it's difficult to listen to them. You have to do all the talking. But that's not what I want to do.

"I want to listen to what the people want. I want to listen to what the other countries want, what they think they can do for us, what we think then that they could do for us, and to work out something that is acceptable to as many people as possible," she added.

Asked how she would describe her future role, she said: "I just think of myself as one of the workers for democracy. Well, better known, perhaps, than the others here in Burma but one of those working for democracy."

Ms Suu Kyi said she was prepared to hold face-to-face talks with Burma's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, to discuss the opposition's demands and to help launch a process of national reconciliation.

"I think we will have to sort out our differences across the table, talking to each other, agreeing to disagree, or finding out why we disagree and trying to remove the sources of our disagreement," she said.

"There are so many things that we have to talk about."

The NLD was currently investigating allegations of fraud in last week's elections, she said, and would soon publish a report.

"From what I've heard there are many, many questions about the fairness about the election and there are many allegations of vote-rigging and so on."

Ms Suu Kyi said she was not fearful of risking re-arrest by continuing to push for democracy, even though she accepted that it was a possibility.

"I'm not fearful, not in the sense that I think to myself that I won't do this or I won't do that because they'll put me under arrest again. That I don't have in mind," she explained.

"But, I know that there's always the possibility that I might be re-arrested. It's not something that I particularly wish for, because if you're placed under arrest you can't work as much as you can when you're not under arrest."

But she stressed that her situation under house arrest had been much better than that of other political prisoners who are in jail.

Ms Suu Kyi added that, during her time in detention she had never felt alone, partly thanks to the BBC, which kept her in touch with the rest of the world.

Earlier on Sunday, Ms Suu Kyi was mobbed by her supporters as she made her way for the first time since her release from her house to the NLD's offices.

The 65-year-old said freedom of speech was the basis of democracy, but warned a crowd of about 4,000 people in Rangoon that if they wanted change they would have to go about getting it in the right way.

"We must work together," she told them. "We Burmese tend to believe in fate, but if we want change we have to do it ourselves."

Continue reading the main story-Aung San Suu Kyi

* Born 1945, daughter of Burma's independence hero, General Aung San, assassinated in 1947
* 1960: Leaves Burma and is later educated at Oxford University
* 1988: Returns to care for sick mother and is caught up in revolt against then-dictator Ne Win
* 1989: Put under house arrest as Burma junta declares martial law
* 1990: NLD wins election; military disregards result
* 1991: Wins Nobel Peace Prize
* 1995: Released from house arrest, but movements restricted
* 2000: Near continuous period of house arrest begins
* Sept 2007: First public appearance since 2003, greeting protesting Buddhist monks
* November 2010: NLD boycotts first election in 20 years and is disbanded; House arrest ends

Are you in Rangoon? Did you hear Aung San Suu Kyi's speech?

Continue reading the main story
At the scene
A correspondentBBC News, Rangoon

Earlier on Sunday, Aung Sang Suu Kyi had to struggle through the throngs of jubilant supporters to reach the podium where she was supposed to speak. Thousands had gathered to hear her.

They were probably expecting Ms Suu Kyi to make clear what she planned to do now that she was free - in the event she asked for help. She said she could not do it alone, and was "ready to work with all democratic forces" - an appeal perhaps to an opposition bitterly divided over the recent election here to unite once more.

She told the crowd she believed in the rule of human rights and the rule of law and felt no antagonism to those who had kept her detained for much of the past two decades. The basis of democratic freedom, she said, was freedom of speech. But she cautioned that if her supporters wanted to get to where they wanted, they had to do it the right way. "Do not give up hope," she added.

Ms Suu Kyi's words were measured and careful, she will know that the military leaders who rule this country will be scrutinising her every move and today she was careful not to provoke them.

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