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from Photographers' Blog:

The first embrace

On the road with President Obama in Myanmar

By Jason Reed

It was something you wouldn’t dream of ten years ago. Based then as a photographer in Bangkok, our forays into neighboring Myanmar consisted of clandestine treks across a slippery border into the jungle camps of Karen rebels. Rebels who were child soldiers brandishing impossibly heavy weapons in their fight against a military junta that had not only persecuted them but also banished Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi into years of house arrest - denying her a place in the political landscape following democratic general elections in May, 1990.

Journalist visas to Myanmar were almost impossible to obtain and the only visual fruit they bore was to strictly-controlled, officially-sanctioned photo opportunities at the ceremonial burning of illicit drugs intercepted from the golden triangle.

Fast forward to November 19, 2012 and the dream is now reality – a first embrace by the United States government to the new social and political reforms in Myanmar. We’re flying into Yangon in a plane bearing the seal of the President of the United States. As journalists we are privileged to have a front-row seat to history. In this case, it was the first visit by a U.S. president to this nation as it slowly reveals itself from behind a curtain of 50 years of strict military rule and international sanctions.

Yangon airport, where in a past life I smuggled memory cards of images out of the country concealed in my underwear, is now a flashy contrast of glass and steel. On the road to town is where the first true glimpse of social upheaval hits you – British colonial-era boulevards lined with thousands of flag-waving children and families, office workers craning their necks for a glimpse of President Obama as his entourage motorcades to a meeting with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein. At times the crowd were just inches from our vehicles as they sped past.

from India Insight:

Aung San Suu Kyi’s India visit: Killing softly with her words

Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's trip to India last week was more than a homecoming of sorts to a country where she went to school and college, and which shaped her political beliefs. It was also about repairing ties frayed by New Delhi's abrupt decision in the mid-1990s to engage with the military junta in Yangon after decades of support for her campaign. She ended up reminding the world's largest democracy of how far it had strayed away from the ideals of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, in the pursuit of realpolitik.

For a country which has prided itself on something bordering on "Indian exceptionalism", and fighting for equality and non-discriminatory policies on the global stage as well as the voice of the downtrodden in the initial decades since it won independence in 1947, the gentle admonishment from Suu Kyi must have rankled. Gandhi wouldn't have countenanced such a policy shift towards a military regime that brutalised its own people, she said, whatever the compulsions. She was saddened that India had taken a path different from hers, despite their shared colonial history and close ties between the independence leaders of the two countries, she told The Hindu in an interview ahead of the trip.

from Andrew R.C. Marshall:

Aung San Suu Kyi is in the House

 The worst-kept secret in Naypyitaw, the eerily under-populated capital of Myanmar, is who lives in a new bungalow in its dusty northern suburbs.

The house looks unwelcoming, and perhaps it's meant to. It is painted a penitential shade of beige and ringed by a high fence topped with razor wire. "To protect against enemies," said a guard through a mouthful of betel juice, before shutting the heavy wooden gate that separates Naypyitaw's famous new resident, Aung San Suu Kyi, from a curious world.

from Photographers' Blog:

Voices of Myanmar refugees

By Damir Sagolj

“It was raining for days before she came, then rain stopped. She has super powers,” Poe Suter Toe, an ethnic Karen refugee said. Indeed, the monsoon rain started again the moment Aung San Suu Kyi left Mae La, the biggest refugee camp at the Thailand-Myanmar border. Its 50,000 people, refugees from all across the country, better known as Burma, remain behind razor wire surrounding the camp in mountains.

A day after, I crossed inside the camp one more time to ask people about Mother Suu’s visit. What do they think about it? Can she change the country? Can she help them?

from Andrew R.C. Marshall:

Reporting history in Myanmar’s new era

By Andrew R.C. Marshall

Hundreds of foreign journalists are preparing to leave Myanmar after covering the by-elections that Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide. Suu Kyi's victory was historic, and so was the media interest: we represent the largest, legal deployment of foreign media to ever descend upon this long-isolated country.

I say "legal," because scores of undercover journalists reported on the monk-led Saffron Revolution in 2007, which was brutally crushed by the military. That bloody event now seems impossibly distant.

from Andrew R.C. Marshall:

ANALYSIS: Big win for Suu Kyi’s party in Myanmar election? Maybe not

By Andrew R.C. Marshall

MAWLAMYAING, Myanmar (Reuters) - Cho Cho May knows who she will vote for in next month's Myanmar by-elections: the candidate for the party created by the former military junta. "No need to ask me that question," she says. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate is her boss.

Finding another USDP supporter elsewhere in this normally sleepy river town is harder. When Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the rival National League for Democracy (NLD), is on a two-day campaign tour of the region, Mawlamyaing's streets throng with people waving NLD flags and shouting "Long live Mother Suu!" Watch Suu Kyi's huge convoy go past -- it includes a truck just to carry the flowers that people give her -- and you wonder how anyone could beat her party at the polls.

from Anya Schiffrin:

Excitement and democracy come to Burma

After the heady days of the Arab Spring last year, it is now Burma’s excitement that’s in the news. Aung San Suu Kyi is hard at work on the campaign trail, political prisoners are being released, and there is talk of the European Union lifting sanctions and the World Bank returning to this Southeast Asian country, which has been isolated from the West for decades.

Visiting Burma for the first time in 1994, I found it the most frightened place I had ever been. I wandered alone for a week in this gorgeous country, the only tourist admiring the historic Buddhist paintings on the walls of the famous temples of Bagan. I visited the market in Rangoon, where women whose faces were decorated with white circles of crushed bark sat smoking fat cigars. In whispered conversations, people  told me how afraid they were of the military government and then moved away quickly because they did not want to be seen with a foreigner. Everyone who went to Burma in those days was haunted by it: the lush landscape with its thatched huts, the gentleness of the people, the loneliness of their existence and the quiet desperation. The problems seemed intractable: the poverty, the corruption and the total lack of freedom.

from Photographers' Blog:

The magic of the crop

That first day was history in the making. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the icon of the democracy movement in Myanmar and daughter of an independence hero of the country, was appearing in public for the first time in many years. I knew these were not going to be ordinary images. Leave them big and don't try to improve the perfect. If I could only make the frame wider to show the whole country celebrating her freedom… but to crop - no, no, no...

MYANMAR-SUU KYI/

Aung San Suu Kyi smiles as she walks with National League for Democracy party members after being released from house arrest in Yangon November 13, 2010. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

from Africa News blog:

What now for Ethiopia’s “Aung San Suu Kyi”?

ethiopiaThe first time I interviewed Birtukan Mideksa I was struck by how careful she was not to say the wrong thing. It was 2007 and we were standing in the garden of a community centre in the part of Addis Ababa where she was raised. She had just been released from prison and the locals -- many of whom struggle to feed themselves -- had each given about a dollar to throw her the party-cum-political rally we had just attended and to buy her an old Toyota Corolla car to help her back on her feet again.

Such was her care when talking to me that, after less than five minutes, I discreetly switched
off my recorder knowing the interview would never make a story, and continued the conversation only out of politeness and professional interest in Ethiopian politics.

from The Great Debate UK:

Political motives behind the trial of Suu Kyi

Soe Paing- Soe Paing is Director of the Office of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, based in the U.S. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The arrest and the filing of criminal charges against Aung San Suu Kyi for alleged violation of house arrest rules under Section 22 of the 1975 State Protection Law or "Law to Safeguard the State Against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts" indicate that the incumbent military regime in Burma is not interested in the offer of Aung San Suu Kyi's party -- National League for Democracy (NLD) -- to join the elections scheduled for 2010 if certain conditions are met.

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