Image: Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi pauses during an interview with The Associated Press as a portrait of her father, independence hero Genn Aung San, hangs on the wall at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar, Thursday. news services
updated 11/18/2010 5:53:22 AM ET 2010-11-18T10:53:22

Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday that her recent release from seven years of detention did not signal a softening in the military's harsh, decades-long rule of the Southeast Asian nation.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Suu Kyi called her detention "illegal" and said she was released simply because the decreed period of her house arrest had ended.

"I don't think there were any other reasons," she said in an interview in her small, Spartan office, decorated with little beyond a vase of flowers and a black and white photograph of her late father, Aung San, who helped lead colonial Burma to independence from Britain.

Story: Myanmar's detained democracy leader Suu Kyi is free

"My detention had come to an end and there were no immediate means of extending it," she said.

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, set free from her lakeside residence Saturday, has made it clear she plans to pursue her goal of a democratic Myanmar — also known as Burma with the name in dispute.

But she has been careful not to verbally challenge the junta or call for its overthrow.

No contact with junta
Since Saturday, though, the generals and their longtime arch-rival have had no contact.

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"I haven't seen any sign of the junta at all since I came out. They haven't made any move to let us know what they feel about the situation," she said.

She added, though, that her goals would not change. "I had better go on living until I see a democratic Burma," she said, laughing.

She has called for face-to-face talks with junta leader Gen. Than Shwe to reach national reconciliation.

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Suu Kyi has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years but has remained the dominant figure of Myanmar's battered pro-democracy movement.

More than 2,200 political prisoners remain behind bars.

A week before her release, a military-backed political party swept the first elections in 20 years amid widespread accusations that the balloting was rigged.

Final results have yet to be announced, but some military candidates grabbed 90 percent and more of the votes in their constituencies.

Country open for business
Myanmar's military rulers have moved quickly to attract investors, declaring that the isolated country is open for business.

Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein gave a rare speech at a regional summit Wednesday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to promote the country's business credentials and trumpet plans for an investment-friendly regulatory framework.

"We encourage participation from the private sector," Thein Sein told leaders and business executives from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos packed into a conference room. "We are creating a pro-business environment in order to work together to get much more business and investment in the region."

Sean Turnell, an expert on Myanmar's economy at Sydney's Macquarie University, cautioned that Myanmar was vastly different from other Asian frontier markets such as Vietnam, whose communist government opened to foreign investment in the 1990s.

Since then, multinationals have piled into Vietnam, keen to break ground on factories and hire some of Asia's cheapest workers. Today, Vietnam boasts gleaming shopping malls, a $33 billion stock market and a surplus of foreign-run factories.

"In Vietnam, there may be problems with democracy, but that country has latched onto the Southeast Asian 'tiger' economy model which is about identifying external markets and investing in manufacturing with a view to employing lots of people and getting into the global production chain," Turnell said.

"But in Burma, it has been about dividing up the domestic economy rather than any sort of outward projection. The regime lacks that developmental mindset. That explains a lot their decisions, which don't make any economic sense. That is what separates them from Vietnam," he added.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Suu Kyi wrestles with how to harness appeal

  1. Transcript of: Suu Kyi wrestles with how to harness appeal

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Another story of freedom that has captured the world's attention tonight, the story of Aung San Suu Kyi . The pro-democracy leader was released from house arrest yesterday, triggering a wave of thousands of people to rush to her home, as you saw in this broadcast last night. It happened in Myanmar . Some still call it Burma . And the question there tonight is, what's next? Our report tonight from John Irvine of our British broadcasting partner, ITN .

    JOHN IRVINE reporting: Aung San Suu Kyi leaving home a free woman for the first time in seven years. Quickly word spread around Rangoon the lady was out and about heading to a political rally. If she was hoping for a low-key drive to party headquarters, well, it just hasn't worked out that way. She's managed to bring the center of Rangoon virtually to a standstill. When she finally made it to her party offices, there were thousands of well wishers. Her affinity with the masses appears to be undiminished. But how might she choose to harness her appeal? Interestingly, she told the crowd that she bore her jailers no ill will. Later, at a chaotic news conference, I asked her about future relations with Burma 's generals. How are you going to use your moral authority? Are you willing to compromise with Burma 's rulers, or will your opposition be totally?

    Mr. AUNG SAN SUU KYI: I certainly would not like to use whatever authority I have, moral or otherwise, to incite hatred. This is what we should not do. I am for national reconciliation.

    IRVINE: So far she has chosen her words carefully and has not openly criticized Burma 's regime. She says the generals have nothing to fear from her. But she's not what they're afraid of, it's her popularity.

Timeline: Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar, a mountainous republic in southeastern Asia, has been under military rule since 1962. Formerly known as Burma, the resource-rich former British colony has spent most of its post-independence history under authoritarian dictatorships.  Perhaps its most famous citizen is democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Click on the dates below to find out more.

Sources: Reuters, The Associated Press, BBC,, Burma Watch International | Link |


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