WASHINGTON — Radio Free Asia has launched a question and answer show with Aung San Suu Kyi, giving the people of military-ruled Myanmar the rarest of opportunities to communicate directly with the democracy icon.
The US-funded broadcaster is airing weekly Burmese-language segments on Friday evenings with the 65-year-old opposition leader, who has been under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years and was last released in November.
Questions for Suu Kyi come in via email or phone and some have already arrived from people within Myanmar, a Radio Free Asia spokesman told AFP, adding that 20 percent of adults there listen to the program.
Myanmar’s ruling junta clamps down hard on any dissent but is unable technically to block the broadcasts, which the population of the majority Buddhist southeast Asian nation of 50 million can pick up on shortwave radio.
“In Burma, there is no opinion or perspective expressed on official media apart from that of the ruling regime,” Nyein Shwe, service director of RFA Burmese, said, using Myanmar’s colonial name.
“Many Burmese people never in their lifetimes imagined they would be able to hear Aung San Suu Kyi discuss her views nor ask her their questions on the radio. For them, it?s a first.”
A pilot episode, broadcast on November 30, featured six questions from members of the diaspora living outside the country: a doctor, a cartoonist, a student leader, a monk, an activist and an ethnic leader.
Radio Free Asia provided a special audio version of the first “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the People” show with Suu Kyi answering the questions in English. This can be found on the group’s website at www.rfa.org/english.
“We have constantly reviewed our position with regard to sanctions and once again we are going to see if there is anything we can do to improve the situation,” she replied to one question, treading carefully.
Suu Kyi was freed from detention on November 13, days after a rare election which has been widely panned by international observers including US President Barack Obama, who said Myanmar’s “bankrupt regime” had stolen the vote.
Obama’s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar’s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has welcomed this engagement but warned that greater human rights and economic progress are still needed.