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Burma's Profile in Courage

BURMA'S military regime, which calls itself the "State Law and Order Restoration Council," jails anyone who dares speak out against it. Thousands of Burmese are imprisoned and threatened with torture.These practices spring from the benighted, xenophobic philosophy of former dictator Ne Win, who stepped down in 1988 at a time of extraordinary popular turmoil, but is widely believed to maintain a firm grip on power behind the scenes. The chief detractor of Ne Win's legacy - and Burma's chief hope for a better day - is Aung San Suu Kyi. Daughter of a founder of modern Burma, she has been under house arrest in Rangoon for more than two years. This week she received the Nobel Peace Prize - an honor that should bring Burma into the spotlight of international concern. Though much of her life has been spent in the West, Aung San Suu Kyi's commitment to progress in her homeland has been unstinting. She returned to Burma in 1988 to care for her mother and became involved in the country's yearning for change. A new movement, the National League for Democracy, coalesced around her leadership. But the "opening" that followed Ne Win's resignation and his legalization of parties other than his own soon closed. The military attempted to quiet Aung San Suu Kyi through house arrest in the summer of 1989. Struggling to accommodate popular opinion, the generals said they would allow a national election the following May. When May arrived, the democratic movement won 82 percent of the parliamentary seats. The generals ignored the election results. They seemed to be betting that economic improvement would quiet the democratic urge and validate their emphasis on "discipline i.e., stern repression. Foreign investment is being courted; the government talks of a "free-market economy." It won't work. On the occasion of her receiving the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought earlier this year, a speech by Aung San Suu Kyi was published. It called for a "revolution of the spirit" to shuck off the fear bred by tyranny. The Burmese people have heard her. Their desire for freedom deserves universal support.

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