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A pillar of strength

By Julie Bishop - posted Thursday, 31 May 2012

Burma’s inspirational pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi could be forgiven for thinking that these days would never come.

It would have been understandable over the past two decades had she succumbed to despair during her 15 years of house arrest and given up on her lonely campaign for freedom and democracy for the people of Burma.

After all, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy won a resounding victory at the 1990 election taking 392 seats from a possible 485.


The military junta had placed her under house arrest in1989 to prevent her from entering the parliament and forming a government. Thousands of her supporters were jailed.

In 1995 I travelled to Burma and I was privileged to spend an hour or so with Suu Kyi.

She made a profound first impression and I was in awe of her grace and composure as she lived under a shadow of constant fear and intimidation.

Just months earlier Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest and there was some optimism among her supporters that the military may relax its iron grip on the country.

That optimism was short lived.

My brief experience with the military, as I passed through the security checkpoints and customs in Rangoon, left me deeply pessimistic.


I left Burma with grave doubts that Suu Kyi would ever be free to live in peace, or be granted the freedom to travel around Burma or overseas, let alone take her place in parliament.

One of the great tests of Suu Kyi’s courage was surely when her husband Aris, who lived in London with their two children, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1997.

Suu Kyi was unwilling to travel to his bedside as she understandably assumed that the military junta would prevent her return to Burma.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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