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Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi Tests Political Waters in Visit to Shan State - 2002-11-13

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has left Rangoon to visit her party headquarters in the politically sensitive Shan state. Her trip coincides with a visit from a key U.N. envoy who is trying to re-ignite stalled talks between the ruling military junta and the opposition.

National League for Democracy spokesman U Lwin says the trip will take several days as Aung San Suu Kyi will meet with her supporters along the way. This is the NLD leader's fourth trip outside the capital since being released from 19 months of house arrest in May.

Analysts say this trip in particular will test the political waters. Aung San Suu Kyi will be visiting Shan State, where human rights groups say the military government has committed major abuses, including raping Shan women as a weapon of war.

Spokesman U Lwin says Aung San Suu Kyi will travel throughout the Shan region, which is enmeshed in a brutal conflict between ethnic separatists and the government.

The trip is crucial, said Sunai Phasuk from Asia Forum. "I think this is a very necessary move for Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burma political party to reach out to the area of the ethnic minorities, especially groups that [are] perhaps in the worse case of military and political suppression which is the Shan State."

Aung San Suu Kyi's trip comes a day after she met with United Nations envoy Razali Ismail. U Lwin says the NLD urged the Malaysian diplomat to convince the government to renew stalled political talks.

Mr. Razali helped broker talks between the democracy leader and the government in October 2000, which raised hopes for political reforms.

Although the talks eventually led to Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest and the release of some political prisoners, no further concessions have been made. Mr. Razali has threatened to quit his post unless this visit, his ninth, produces more results.

Sunai Phasuk thinks the timing is right for Aung San Suu Kyi's trip to the Shan State, because the government, called the SPDC, could not forbid the trip while Mr. Razali is in the country.

"So this is symbolic, and the SPDC couldn't say otherwise but let her go," he said. "Because if her trip to Shan State is stopped for whatever reason it will make SPDC look really, really bad, especially in the eyes of special [U.N.] envoy."

The military has ruled Burma for over 40 years. Although the NLD overwhelmingly won elections in 1990, it was never allowed to come to power.