November 15, 2010 / 7:58 AM / 7 years ago

Myanmar people overjoyed but worry about Suu Kyi

<p>Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) is greeted by supporters at her National League for Democracy's party headquarters in Yangon November 15, 2010.Stringer</p>

YANGON (Reuters) - The release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still being celebrated in Myanmar but fears about her safety or re-arrest are running high among her adoring supporters.

The Nobel laureate and daughter of the country's independence hero was released on Saturday after seven years in detention but many are concerned her freedom could be short-lived if the country's oppressive army rulers decide to wield their power.

"I'm very worried about her security," said Soe Myint, a taxi driver in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon.

"If something happens to her, they will be responsible for this," he added, referring to the army regime that has ruled the former British colony for 48 years.

In a country where distrust of the military runs deep, her supporters would have every reason to be concerned.

Suu Kyi's motorcade was attacked in May 2003 by pro-junta thugs in the town of Depayin while on a countryside tour. She was placed back under house arrest, which the regime called "protective custody."

"The Depayin incident is still haunting us," said Hla Thein, a retired teacher. "To be honest, I doubt we can expect any meaningful changes following her release but we are all worried about her."

Suu Kyi spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention because of her fight against military dictatorship in Myanmar.


She already appears on a collision course with the generals, using her first major speech on Sunday to call for freedom of speech in a country where all media are strictly monitored by censors and urging supporters to stand up for their rights.

In an interview with the BBC that aired on Monday, she called for a "peaceful revolution" in the country of 50 million people.

<p>Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) smiles in between meetings at her National League for Democracy's party headquarters in Yangon November 15, 2010.Soe Zeya Tun</p>

"A non-violent revolution -- lets put it that way," she said. "Because a great change means a revolution whether it's violent or non violent. And we would like a non-violent, peaceful, revolution."

There is little doubt the military junta sees her as the biggest threat to its power. Suu Kyi has twice been freed and twice re-arrested since she was first placed in detention in July 1989 for "endangering the state."

In May last year, Suu Kyi was weeks away from the expiry of a term of house arrest when American intruder John Yettaw swam to her lakeside home saying God had sent him to warn her terrorists would try to assassinate her.

She allowed the intruder to stay for two nights and as a result was given an 18-month extension to her term for breaking a law protecting the state against "subversive elements."

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Critics said the charges were trumped up to sideline her from politics. Some supporters fear something similar could happen again.

"To my great relief, another John Yettaw did not show up before she was released," added taxi driver Soe Myint. "I thought the military would create some reason to extend her house arrest." Suu Kyi was greeted by thousands of supporters when she was released on Saturday and she appears not to have lost her charisma and mesmerizing influence on the people. Although she will play no official political role following a November 7 election boycotted by her party and won convincingly by a pro-military party, few think she will fade from the spotlight.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which scored a landslide election victory in 1990 which the junta ignored, was disbanded by the regime in September because of its boycott.

She told her lawyer in October to file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court to have it declared still in existence. On Monday, she met two of her lawyers, Nyan Win and Kyaw Hoe, who agreed to go to the court in the capital Naypyitaw on November 18 to argue the case.

Her supporters expect her to push for reforms and freedoms, but know there are limits to how much she can do in a country tightly controlled by the military and governed by a new constitution critics say was designed to keep Suu Kyi at bay.

They are just happy to see her free.

"I don't think we can expect anything out of her release since it does not depend on her alone. I'm just happy to see her free," said Khin May, a retired bank clerk.

"I will be very glad if nothing happens to her. I hope she doesn't get arrested again."

Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ron Popeski

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