Aung San Suu Kyi visiting the US, there is still no peace in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, is travelling to the US for the first time since she was put under house arrest in 1990. The Nobel laureate, who begins her 18-day tour of the US on Monday, will be presented the Congressional Gold Medal and meet various members of the state department and possibly the White House. She will also hold meetings with various Burmese expatriates and groups across the US.

Since her release from house arrest in late 2010, Suu Kyi has transitioned from dissident to parliamentarian, as Myanmar has shifted from five decades of repressive military rule. “The idea that she will be at the Rotunda of the US Capitol, to receive the highest award congress can give, just a couple of years after she was under house arrest in her own country, is just remarkable”, said Democratic Representative Joe Crowley, one of the politicians who sponsored her 2008 award of the Congressional Gold Medal.

The trip takes place as the Obama administration considers easing a ban on imports from the country into the US, the main plank remaining in the tough economic sanctions that Washington has chipped away at this year to reward the country’s progress towards democracy. President Barack Obama could waive its provisions, but he may look for further concrete action by Myanmar in exchange, such as the releases of hundreds of political prisoners who remain in detention despite the freeing of hundreds of other dissidents this year.

Religious intolerance exacerbates with the advent of the new rule in Myanmar

After more than a year of mainly positive news for Myanmar, the past couple of months brought everyone back to earth with a thud. The international community had been scrambling to praise the political reforms undertaken by the partly civilian government since the election at the end of 2010. World leaders had been practically tripping over themselves to shake the hand of freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

For more than a year, Myanmar has enjoyed something of a coming out party. Now, the nation is waking up to a hangover, and it may be a long one. We are reminded that, for the past year, a war has been fought in the north of the country that shows no sign of stopping. There were church services held in Kachin State to mark one year since a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and soldiers from the Myanmar Army was broken.

The KIA first began fighting for independence, now they fight for greater autonomy. Some within the rebel army believe government forces won’t stop fighting until all the Kachin people are wiped out. That may not be true, but the fact that some senior people believe and are saying it shows a deep lack of trust. The Kachin are predominantly Christian in a mainly Buddhist country.

Another conflict is the situation in Rakhine State, in the northwest of Myanmar, which has provided an example of humanity at its worst, with rape, murder, mutilation, revenge killings, arson, racial and religious abuse taking place. The problems allegedly started when a group of Muslim Rohingya men raped and murdered a Buddhist woman. What seems to have happened since the incident, in many people’s eyes, is that all Rohingya are now guilty by association.

The Rohingya are stateless and are not counted among the country’s ethnic minority groups. Many in Myanmar view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, a country where they are also not wanted. Some of the vitriolic comments coming from people in social media lately have unearthed intolerance inside Myanmar that could spell more trouble in the future.

Background: The story of Suu Kyi

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”, Aung San Suu Kyi has become an icon of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy and of the global struggle against oppression. Kept under house arrest or in jail for most of the past 21 years, she was released from custody on 13 November 2010 and stood as a candidate in the 1 April 2011 by-election for the consituency of Kawhmu.

On 29 May 2012 Suu Kyi made her first trip outside of Myanmar since 1988, arriving in the Thai capital Bangkok to begin a world tour, which was scheduled to include stops in Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Born in Rangoon, now Yangon, in June 1945, Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar independence hero General Aung San. He was assassinated by political rivals when she was just two years old, six months before Myanmar, then known as Burma, was granted independence from Britain. As a young woman, Aung San Suu Kyi studied politics in New Delhi before transferring to Oxford University in the UK in 1964 where she studied philosophy, politics and economics. There she met and married British academic Michael Aris, with whom she had two sons, Alexander and Kim.

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