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EDITORIAL: A new Burma

Denmark must support the new democracy.

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Aung San Suu Kyi has won her place in the Burmese Parliament in Rangoon.

Something of a revolution - and a peaceful one at that.

Suu Kyi – the daughter of Burma’s nationalist hero Gen. Aung San – has spent 15 of the past 20 years in house arrest. She is, without doubt, her country’s most prominent national and international leader and an icon for freedom and democracy in her country – irrespective of whether you call it Burma or Myanmar.

Had the junta in Rangoon not opposed her, she would have taken power after her landslide victory in the 1990 elections. But at the time, the junta’s desperate response to the nation’s preference for her National League for Democracy (NLD) was to lock her away in house arrest.

A year later she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to democracy and non-violence.

With the last 20 years as a backdrop, the junta’s permission for the NLD to take part in by-elections for 45 seats in the 664-seat Parliament was a major, major step forward. The junta will continue to have parliamentary and general control, and a lot remains to happen before Aung San Suu Kyi’s dream of a true democracy becomes a reality.

But her electoral victory has confirmed the support of her countrymen and thus recommended the international community to back her progress towards democracy.

As such, Development Aid Minister Christian Friis Bach is right in calling on Denmark and other countries to support both Aung San Suu Kyi and the nascent Burmese democracy.

It should be made clear to the Burmese population, Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals that the international community be supportive, if the process of democratisation continues.

For Denmark, it is clear that this can be achieved by involving ourselves in those areas of development cooperation in which we have solid experience – for example education and health. Not least that years of boycotts can quickly be replaced with cooperation and trade, and that political isolation should be replaced by new diplomatic relations. A Danish embassy in Rangoon would be a natural extension of such a new partnership.

The will to introduce democracy must come from the Burmese themselves, and it is a will that they have demonstrated more than once.

And as the generals demonstrate their willingness to transfer the reins to popularly elected politicians such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Denmark should also be ready to support a new and free Burma.

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