Women activists from Myanmar, including members of ethnic minority groups who have fled from the military-ruled country as well as foreign supporters mark the birthday of opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi in Bangkok.
Coinciding with Suu Kyi's birthday is Women's Day in Myanmar, highlighting, say activists, ongoing struggles by women, who are faced with a depressed economy in Myanmar, and with harassment as well as abuse by the army in the countryside.
Jeanne Hallacy, an American documentary filmmaker, says Women's Day is a way of paying tribute to Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi, "really to honor someone who goes by many names; some people in Burma (call her) 'a mae' – which is mother – some people call her 'Daw Suu' or Mann Suu Suu."
Little progress in democratic process
But the birthday celebrations are overshadowed by Suu Kyi's continued house arrest and signs of little progress in talks to bridge the gap between the opposition and the military. The leader of the opposition National League for Democracy or NLD has spent 14 of the past 20 years under detention. Rights groups globally are again calling for her release.
The NLD and ethnic-based political parties in Myanmar have refused to take part in general elections scheduled for later this year. The vote, the first in 20 years is expected to take place in October. In May 1990 elections the NLD won by a landslide but the party was never allowed to take power - with its leaders detained and party followers harassed by the military.
No hope from planned polls
Now activists fear this year's polls will merely entrench a military whose control over power dates back to 1962. "The 2010 election will give the legitimacy to the military that they can do whatever they want officially", says Lway Aye Nang from the Women's League of Burma. "So it will not change the situation for Burma, it will continue to put the people of Burma in danger."
Lway Aye Nang says parties closely associated with military such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), are being able to freely undertake political activities while ethnic-based parties have been restricted, with little funding.
Lae Lae Nwe, who spent four years in jail as a political prisoner in Myanmar, fled to Thailand in 2002. She says,"most of the Burmese people are scared of the military junta. The girls are living in fear, and in the economic crisis most people including Burmese women are trying to survive for themselves so they have no chance to be interested in political activity even though they know that the military junta isn't good for them."
The activists are now calling on the international community not to recognize the election results due to the absence of key parties such as the NLD and the on-going detention of over 2,500 political prisoners.
Author: Ron Corben (Bangkok)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein