The Triumphal Rise of Aung San Suu Kyi


The regime had driven the country into isolation for more than 20 years, ever since Suu Kyi was robbed of her election victory in 1990. Under the rule of the generals, what was once a Buddhist paradise had been turned into an impoverished pariah state at the end of the world. In the past, Suu Kyi had even advised tourists to not visit Burma so as to avoid unintentionally supporting its authoritarian leaders with their money.

But now everything seems to have changed. State-run newspapers are suddenly criticizing the regime, while the regime itself is signaling that it no longer intends to do China's bidding. It even canceled the construction of a giant, Chinese-backed hydroelectric dam. Likewise, images of Suu Kyi can be seen on every street corner, tourists are flooding into the country, and the government is weighing plans to build two new major airports.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi is receiving state guests as if she were already president, and her name is even being mentioned for cabinet posts. "There is a possibility that she will be brought into the government," says an adviser to President Thein Sein. A Conflict Zone in a Sea of Hope

Indeed, there is a new spirit of optimism in Burma -- but not everywhere. The northeastern town of Laiza, which lies right on the Chinese border, is resonating with fighting songs. "We are KIA soldiers, we are always on the front and we will destroy the enemy with our enthusiasm," the men shout as they march in step across the dusty parade ground. They are recruits with a guerilla force, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and their commander is a woman. Since last June, the ethnic militia from Kachin State, in northern Burma, has been at war with the Burmese army, which broke a 17-year cease-fire when it launched an offensive against KIA positions.

What is happening in this remote mountain region is inconsistent with the good news in other parts of the country, where ethnic conflicts are now being resolved. Tens of thousands of refugees are on the move or living in camps, and there are almost daily skirmishes.

The front is less than 20 kilometers from Laiza. Only the high mountains and perhaps also the proximity to China -- a country with which the government cannot afford to be in conflict -- protect the people here from an even worse fate. "The army is waging a war against our people," says KIA General Gun Maw. He is sitting in a ballroom on the fourth floor of the Laiza Hotel, which the KIA uses as its headquarters. On the table in front of him, there are two cell phones, which he uses to keep in contact with the front. On the wall, there are military maps and a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Of course we are pinning our hopes on her," says Gun Maw, "and yet we must solve our military problems on our own." The KIA has more than 20,000 soldiers, he says, but since their weapons consist mainly of ordinary rifles and home-made bombs, their only option is to wage a guerilla war. "We ambush the government troops, set remote-controlled bombs and then withdraw," Gun Maw says.

Integration Failures

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