Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has told the BBC she is ready for talks with all groups to achieve national reconciliation. A day after her release from house arrest, she said it was time to “sort out our differences across the table”. Ms Suu Kyi also said she intended to listen to what the Burmese people and her international supporters wanted as she planned her next steps.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention. World leaders and human rights groups have welcomed her release.
US President Barack Obama said it was “long overdue”, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Ms Suu Kyi was an “inspiration”, and urged Burma to free all its remaining 2,200 political prisoners. The move came six days after Burma held its first elections in 20 years, which was won by the biggest military-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but widely condemned as a sham.
Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last election in 1990, but was never allowed to take power. It was disbanded by the military authorities after it decided to boycott last week’s polls.
In her first interview since being released, Ms Suu Kyi told the BBC’s Alastair Leithead in Bangkok by telephone that one of the first things she had to do was “to listen to what the people have to say”.
“The only thing is that if you talk to a large crowd, it’s difficult to listen to them. You have to do all the talking. But that’s not what I want to do. “I want to listen to what the people want. I want to listen to what the other countries want, what they think they can do for us, what we think then that they could do for us, and to work out something that is acceptable to as many people as possible,” she added.
Asked how she would describe her future role, she said: “I just think of myself as one of the workers for democracy. Well, better known, perhaps, than the others here in Burma but one of those working for democracy.” Ms Suu Kyi said she was prepared to hold talks with all factions in Burma to help launch a process of national reconciliation.
“I think we will have to sort out our differences across the table, talking to each other, agreeing to disagree, or finding out why we disagree and trying to remove the sources of our disagreement,” she said. “There are so many things that we have to talk about.”
The NLD was currently investigating allegations of fraud in last week’s elections, she said, and would soon publish a report.” From what I’ve heard there are many, many questions about the fairness about the election and there are many allegations of vote-rigging and so on.”
Ms Suu Kyi said she was not fearful of risking re-arrest by continuing to push for democracy, even though she accepted that it was a possibility. “I’m not fearful, not in the sense that I think to myself that I won’t do this or I won’t do that because they’ll put me under arrest again. That I don’t have in mind,” she explained. “But, I know that there’s always the possibility that I might be re-arrested. It’s not something that I particularly wish for, because if you’re placed under arrest you can’t work as much as you can when you’re not under arrest.”
But she stressed that her situation under house arrest had been much better than that of other political prisoners who are in jail. Ms Suu Kyi added that, during her time in detention she had never felt alone, partly thanks to the BBC, which kept her in touch with the rest of the world.
Earlier on Sunday, Ms Suu Kyi was mobbed by her supporters as she made her way for the first time since her release from her house to the NLD’s offices. The 65-year-old said freedom of speech was the basis of democracy, but warned a crowd of about 4,000 people in Rangoon that if they wanted change they would have to go about getting it in the right way. “We must work together,” she told them. “We Burmese tend to believe in fate, but if we want change we have to do it ourselves.” – BBC