Burma's Junta Keeps Feisty Lady in Waiting

THE bright promise the world expected when Burma's star dissident was released four months ago is now quickly fading.

Instead Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy fighter detained for six years by a military regime, finds her opposition party, the National League of Democracy (NLD), in direct conflict with the ruling generals of the State Law and Order Council, or SLORC.

After Suu Kyi took the NLD out of an official forum to frame a new constitution Nov. 29, a senior Cabinet minister denounced her perceived eminence as the opposition leader.

''The question of dialogue is not necessary here.... She claims she has the support of the people. Hers is a lone voice,'' said Brig. Gen. David Abel, the minister for national planning and economic development, in an interview.

He added that the majority voice of the Burmese people ''is what matters to us,'' dismissing the importance of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is also the daughter of modern Burma's founder.

Since her release July 6, Suu Kyi has been frustrated in her efforts to engage the junta as a serious player. It is clear to many analysts that SLORC is seeking to marginalize Suu Kyi and deny she has popular support, while hoping to reap aid and trade from the West just for releasing her.

Western governments stopped badly needed aid and investments to the already-isolated, military-run Southeast Asian nation after it stomped out a budding democracy movement between 1988 and 1990.

At a rally outside her Rangoon home on Saturday, Suu Kyi told gathered supporters: ''We will wait till we get a dialogue [with the junta].'' She explained that her party had withdrawn from the writing of a constitution because free debate was not allowed and complained that the process was being railroaded by SLORC.

The NLD had 86 delegates in the convention of 700 members, most of whom were handpicked by the government. The convention retaliated by revoking all the NLD delegates from the roster on grounds they were ''absent without leave.''

''They walked out. That shows they are not interested in a new constitution,'' General Abel said. He hinted that the government believed Suu Kyi instigated the boycott. ''Before her release, the NLD was attending [the convention].... She is released, and they don't want to participate. What's the idea?''

The SLORC has been increasingly irritated at Suu Kyi's popularity and especially at the weekend rallies held outside her Rangoon home. It hoped her popularity would fade after she was put her under house arrest in 1989 and that the NLD, which won a 1990 election only to see it nullified, might not always follow her.

''Aung San Suu Kyi is not the NLD. She is an individual person,'' Abel insists.

SLORC's stiff-arming of Suu Kyi doesn't surprise Western diplomats in Rangoon. A Western diplomat said SLORC has the upper hand in its dealings with the opposition and even world opinion. ''The only game is SLORC's game,'' says this diplomat. ''This is not a regime that takes decisions based on what is happening abroad. It has demonstrated it can get by if necessary irrespective of

whether its policies are conducive to foreign aid.''

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