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Published: Tuesday, 4/24/2001

Hope in Myanmar

After years of sacrifice there finally are indications that Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's determination to see democracy in her native Myanmar has not been in vain.

Certainly it's a good sign that opposition leader Suu Kyi is engaged in talks with the government, though history has taught us that it is unwise to celebrate prematurely in Myanmar. Even so, as the leader of the National League for Democracy, Ms. Suu Kyi's secret dialogue with government officials is a signal that change could be on the horizon the first time in decades.

It's not just the talks that provide a sense of anticipation. Other events have demonstrated that the military government is loosening its grip. Up to 150 National League for Democracy supporters have been released from prison. Most of them had been detained only for months, but political prisoners incarcerated for much longer periods are also being freed. That's not irrelevant. Furthermore, party members are also allowed to move about more freely and the government has relaxed its surveillance on NLD party headquarters.

Those events are consequential, given the government's crackdown on the opposition in the past. Yet what also clears the way for democracy to begin to take root is what appears to be a breakdown in the military government leadership. The top official in Myanmar, Gen. Than Shwe, has no apparent heir, and there is a power struggle between the second and third men who are in leadership.

Ms. Suu Kyi will take advantage of these fractures in the military government and continue, cautiously, to advance her party until democracy is in place in Myanmar. These significant events suggest that monumental change may be on the way.

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