VOA-TV Host David Borgida talks with Burma expert Priscilla Clapp about the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
MR. BORGIDA: And now joining us, the former top U.S. diplomat in Rangoon for several years and an expert on Burma, Priscilla Clapp. Thanks so much for joining us. I guess if the U.N. envoy is optimistic, that's good news for all of us.
MS. CLAPP: Well, he's optimistic, but they shouldn't have taken her into detention in the first place. I hope that he's right. I hope that they are about to release her.
MR. BORGIDA: What does the Burmese Government, Ms. Clapp, have to fear from Aung San Suu Kyi? Why are they making this repeatedly such a national case and putting her in detention like this?
MS. CLAPP: I believe they fear democracy. She stands for democracy. She is very popular in the country. And I think that bothers the hardliners in the military.
Because in their own minds, they don't understand democracy, first of all, and they equate it with disorder. And if there is anything the military can't deal with, it's disorder. They want to keep things under their control.
MR. BORGIDA: How long can this continue to go on, this kind of situation, with her being detained and so on?
MS. CLAPP: Well, who knows? I suppose for the lifetimes of the people involved. Military rule has governed Burma for 40 years now, so it just keeps perpetuating itself.
MR. BORGIDA: But if she is so popular, could a popular uprising bring down this military regime, or is it so stifling that it’s, in your view, just an impossibility?
MS. CLAPP: It's unlikely, because the military controls every little corner of the country now. Forty years ago they didn't. And even in 1988, they had trouble controlling things. But now I think they would.
MR. BORGIDA: When you were a diplomat in Rangoon for the United States, what was the level of access? Was the situation different? Similar?
MS. CLAPP: It was similar to this. She was free when I first got there, for about a year, and then they put her into detention for almost two years, 19 months. She was at home in detention.
And during that period, they were talking with her. So, things eased up a bit and they weren't at least attacking her verbally in the press as they had been doing before.
And then it looked like they were reaching some kind of accommodation on the issue of a transition when things started moving backwards. And I think that it's a case of split opinion inside the military.
MR. BORGIDA: You know her and you've met her. What kind of a person is she?
MS. CLAPP: She is a very impressive person. She is highly intellectual, highly well-educated. She understands democracy in the same way that we do.
I would say that she is a person on the order of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, if you want to understand the kind of person that she is. She is a real leader. She is charismatic, very articulate.
When she speaks to the people in Burma in Burmese, she speaks a simple form of Burmese that is not flowery, it's not highfalutin, and people really are attracted to what she is saying.
And she speaks to them very simply. And it's sort of an educational process for her, telling people how democracy operates and what their responsibilities are in a democracy.
She is not saying, we can bring you democracy and change things. She is saying, you have to do it with us. And democracy requires a lot of responsibility on the part of the people, the ordinary people.
MR. BORGIDA: The United States, the U.N., some regional governments, others, are condemning her protective detention -- I believe they're calling it this time, protective custody.
Is this a government that is immune to any criticism, or might there be some diplomatic leverage that the United States or others can impose upon Burma to get her released?
MS. CLAPP: I think the strongest diplomatic leverage on Burma is the international community itself. It is not any one nation. The international community has to come together with a single voice and exert maximum pressure both rhetorically and, I suppose, physically on the government. They need to be told by the international community that this is unacceptable behavior.
MR. BORGIDA: Well, unacceptable behavior, I'm afraid that's the way we're going to end our interview. Thanks, Priscilla Clapp, former top U.S. diplomat in Rangoon and our guest on Newsline. Thanks so much for joining us today.
MS. CLAPP: Thanks for having me, David.