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Aung San Suu Kyi: From human rights heroine to alienated icon

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We met in the cavernous interior of the foreign affairs ministry where the old regime once plotted its campaigns against international sanctions and isolation.
On the walls are the portraits of past Burmese leaders, beginning with her father General Aung San, assassinated on the eve of independence in 1947, and continuing into the era of thuggish military rule, face after forgotten face for whom nobody had ever voted in a democratic election.
The new leader, elected with an overwhelming popular mandate, arrived surrounded by civil servants and guarded by police, fresh from meetings and with many more planned later in the day.
Her interview with me was the first this year and a rare encounter with the media.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been bruised by the criticism over her handling of the Rohingya Muslim crisis in Rakhine state. It is a long way from the days when reporters, myself included, made the journey to her home by the lake in Rangoon, also known as Yangon, to listen to her expound on the virtues of universal human rights.
Back when I first met her in July 1995 she was a political prisoner a few days free, eager for news of the world and particularly South Africa, where I had just completed my assignment as the BBC correspondent covering the transition to democracy.
She had followed my reports on the BBC World Service and was keen to know how the African National Congress managed to achieve the end of apartheid. There was an innocent eagerness about her back then, a hunger for knowledge on everything ranging from microfinance to the latest news in poetry and literary fiction.
Then, as her popularity grew and the army became nervous, there was another long period of house arrest. The army continued with its repression. Thousands were rounded up during the peaceful, and abortive, protests by monks in 2007.
She was only finally released three years later and allowed to resume a full-time political career.


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