Suu Kyi gave one of her longest interviews to date to editors and reporters at The New York Times on September 26, in which she discussed a war crimes tribunal, President Thein Sein, the community violence in Rakhine State, the unexpectedly rapid pace of democratic reforms and working with the military to remove its dominance in the Burmese Parliament.
|Burma's Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts September 27, 2012. Photo: AFP|
The former military regime and the current government both had “the eagerness to go ahead economically: I think the perception was that if you improve the economy, everything else would improve. I don’t subscribe to that view, I think you need political reforms as well as economic reforms.”
Regarding the role of China and the US in Burma, she said there doesn’t have to be conflict over Burma between the two superpowers. “I have to keep reminding people that before we had a military regime, when Burma was a practicing democracy, we had good relations with the US and with China. I don’t see why we shouldn’t continue to,” she said.
On the ongoing demonstrations at the Wethmay mine in Burma where villagers are challenging a joint China-Burma project, she said:” We have to go back a little, this is why I’m keen on transparency, especially with regard to the extractive industries, because of the opacity of contracts and the way business deals were made, people discovered too late what was going on and discovered they didn’t like it. It leads to all kinds of problems. In the end it’s transparency that will lead to economic harmony, not just political harmony.”
Asked if she would run for president, she said, “You don’t run for president in Burma, it doesn’t work like that. It’s not directly elected.”
She said that working with the military to reduce its 25 per cent stake in the Parliament could be possible in the future, but, “We can only do this with the cooperation of the army itself. So we have to work together. There are some that would say how could we do that; the army would make sure that it would have this influence in the legislature, why would they let go. But I think if they understand why it is not desirable for a democratic legislature to have so many seats reserved for a particular block, I think they’ll start thinking again.”
“We’ve been in the legislature a little over two months, and we’ve met members of the military block. We’ve not been able to establish what we can call close relationships but we have a civilized relationship and I have great hopes that we will be able to understand one another better because as you get to know them you get on better terms. I find our relationship improves rather than deteriorates as we get to know one another.”
Responding to criticism that she has been too silent on the situation in Rakhine State and the unrest between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine natives, she said: “I’ve always spoken out against human rights abuses but not against a particular community. That I’m totally against and I know that people want me to, they want strong and colorful condemnation, which I won’t do, because I don’t think it helps. If you condemn one community that makes the other community more hostile towards that community, not towards to me.
“People forget that when they condemn one community that community gets very resentful. This has actually taken place in Rakhine. Some Buddhists there feel resentment because they feel so much sympathy has been given to the Muslim community when they too are poor and underprivileged. And of course in the recent troubles violence is committed by both sides.
“So how am I supposed to condemn one side when violence was committed by both?” she asked.” Basically I’m against all human rights abuses and I strongly stand by the principle that human rights must be protected by the rule of law. But I do not think that condemning one community is going to help the other or vice versa.”
Asked about reconciliation, she said: “It’s not going to happen quickly. I think you have to be practical. These communal problems have been going on for decades and we’re not going to be able to reconcile them in one night. This is why I concentrate on rule of law. Because you have to bring down tensions… And once tensions have gone down, then we must think about how to proceed. It must be based on sound citizenship laws. There’s a sense that these people do not belong to Burma. But then who, who are they?
“And of course Bangladesh says they [Rohingyas] don’t belong to them either. And this has a lot to do with the fact that the border was not properly policed. And each side can claim that they have nothing to do with whichever community they don’t want to have anything to do with.
Asked about a possible war crimes tribunal to look into human rights abuses by the generals who led Burma for decades, she said some people would want that.
“I wouldn’t, but that’s me,” she said. “I can’t speak for everybody. There would be some who would but I don’t think they would be in the majority. Because the Burmese are pragmatic and we’re not a particularly vengeful race.”
Asked about President Thein Sein, she said: “I do not know him well personally; I’ve only met him in the line of work. I’d worked with him only once before, in 2001 when General Than Shwe was still at the helm and we were invited to dinner. I remember this general introduced, he used the term this is the new generation when he introduced us to them. They didn’t speak much then, it was the older generation…
“I only met [Thein Sein] after he became president. The first time I met him it was to do with the new registering of the NLD and taking part in the bi-elections. He was very helpful and wanted us to be part of the system as it were. He wanted the party to be registered and to run for the elections. And we came to an agreement about how we could go about this. I’ve had a few more meetings with him which were not as important in some ways, at that meeting we decided it would be possible for the NLD to enter into the legal political process. He’s a quiet sort of person and he weighs his words. He obviously thinks beforehand what he’s going to say.”
For the complete text of the interview, go to http://keller.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/a-conversation-with-daw-aung-san-suu-kyi/