November 19, 2010 / 3:57 PM / in 7 years

Suu Kyi sees army role in democratic Myanmar

5 Min Read

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday she was willing to work with Myanmar's military junta who locked her up for 15 years and she would support its new political system if it helped the people.

The comments by the 65-year-old Nobel peace laureate, in an interview with Reuters six days after her release from house arrest, were the strongest yet illustrating her intention and desire to engage the junta to bring about democratic reforms.

"We have not ruled out cooperation with military," she said.

"But we have to talk about it, how do we effect a smooth transition and in how many stages....We're not saying no more military on the scene anymore." Asked to elaborate on her wish for a "non-violent, peaceful revolution" in the former British colony also known as Burma, she said, "let's put it as significant change rather than dramatic change. Drama isn't always for the best."

But she made it clear she sees herself above all as a politician, confirming plans to return to politics.

"I'm a politician. One should not try to make oneself something out to be something bigger than what one is," she said. "People choose to call me all sorts of things. I'm working in politics so I'm a politician."

In a telephone interview from her lakeside villa where she spent the last seven years under house arrest in Yangon, she said she is "too busy" to worry about security but plans to travel again into the rural heartlands to meet supporters.

Such a trip would be her first since May 2003 when -- a year after her last release from house arrest in 2002 -- her motorcade was attacked by pro-junta thugs in the town of Depayin. Human rights groups say about 70 members of her party were killed.

She was placed back under house arrest. She has spent 15 of the past 21 years in different forms of detention.

"I would like to travel some time and I think I should."

Rampant Cronyism

The daughter of assassinated independence hero General Aung San said she wants to see a new "honourable" military role after nearly a half century of direct army rule but that she needed help in bringing the ruling generals to the negotiating table.

She blamed rampant cronyism in resource-rich Myanmar as among the top problems for a country that just 50 years ago was one of Southeast Asia's wealthiest but where now a third of its 50 million people live in poverty while the junta lives lavishly.

"Cronyism is regenerating. Cronyism leads to more cronyism."

But she stopped short of rejecting a new political framework designed by the military following a November 7 election, the first in 20 years, that was ridiculed as a rigged sham to prolong army rule behind a facade of democracy.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) won the previous election in 1990 by a landslide, a result the military ignored.

"We can't talk about either support or rejection," she said of the army's steps toward a civilian-led government, which she would support "if it's going in the right direction, the direction that people want."

She said a committee set up by her party to study fraud in the election would hopefully issue a report "within weeks".

Although she said she would review her earlier support of Western sanctions, she doubted multinational companies can nudge the country toward economic and political reforms, criticizing energy companies in particular for lack of transparency.

"We are going to re-assess the situation because we want to find out if it really is, as it has been put, that sanctions have failed at the expense of the people," she said.

She did not respond directly when asked if she would seek to have current energy contracts renegotiated, but added, "these are part of the big problem. Very few people are benefiting out of this situation...the companies that are working in Burma have not brought about any sort of transparency."

Diplomats expect Suu Kyi to work with the West to end sanctions seen by many as adding to chronic economic malaise, but it is unclear how she would do this and if she would first seek the release of about 2,100 remaining political prisoners.

"There's a certain amount of awareness in Burma, but not as much as there should be to bring about their release quicker."

She called for negotiations to prevent imminent conflict between government troops and ethnic separatist groups that have refused to disarm and take part in the junta's political process. She would be very happy to mediate in talks, she said, but doubted the regime would invite her.

Her supporters expect Suu Kyi 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.

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