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Aung San Suu Kyi Greeted by Cheering Supporters in Dala - 2002-08-30

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has visited the town near Rangoon where a standoff with the military authorities two years ago eventually led to her house arrest. This is the third trip by the activist since she was released nearly four months ago.

Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters Friday when she arrived in the town of Dala. She opened an office of her National League for Democracy (NLD) in the town, telling supporters that democracy can be strong only when political opposition is strong. She then went on to open offices in two other towns in Rangoon Province.

This was the third political trip by the pro-democracy leader since she was released from 19 months of house arrest last May, as part of confidence-building measures between the NLD party and the Burmese military authorities. The trips have also taken her to Mandalay and Mon State.

Her attempt to travel to Dala two years ago was blocked by the military, leading to a nine-day standoff in which she and her supporters camped on the road in their cars. She was eventually escorted back to the capital, and was placed under house arrest a week later when she again tried to travel outside Rangoon.

Aung San Suu Kyi's talks with the government have led to the release of some 300 political prisoners, and to the opening of 24 NLD party offices, mostly in the Rangoon area. Despite this progress, she recently said the talks should move forward more quickly and that all of Burma's political prisoners should be released.

The talks are being brokered by United Nations diplomat Razali Ismail, who said after a visit earlier this month that he expects them to move to more substantive issues very soon.

That is not the view of Aung Zaw, the editor of Irriwady magazine, which follows Burmese affairs. Aung Zaw says both Aung San Suu Kyi and the government are moving slowly and cautiously. "NLD doesn't want to lose the freedoms that they are enjoying at the moment and they want to expand that freedom, "he said. "So I think they will go slowly. And also the government is not ready to give her at all room to maneuver."

Several activists have been arrested in recent weeks for demonstrating for political reform. These dissidents have not been linked to the NLD however and the party has kept its distance from them.