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Myanmar's Suu Kyi rules out party overhaul

Myanmar's pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi today ruled out a reorganisation of her party's top ranks to replace elderly leaders with a younger generation of activists.

world Updated: Dec 17, 2010 17:21 IST

Myanmar's pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday ruled out a reorganisation of her party's top ranks to replace elderly leaders with a younger generation of activists.

In an interview with AFP, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was released last month from seven straight years of house arrest, also said she would not use the issue of sanctions as a bargaining chip with the ruling generals.

Suu Kyi is fighting for the existence of her party, which has been officially disbanded by the military regime because it opted to boycott the country's first election in 20 years, held last month.

Many senior NLD members are in their 80s and 90s and there had been speculation that the dissident might overhaul its Central Executive Committee (CEC) to bring in new blood. But she said she had no plans for such a move.

"We are not going to ask our older leaders to leave because they want to serve as long as they have strength to serve the party and I think that is a good thing to be encouraged," the 65-year-old said.

"We are not going to reorganise the CEC or anything like that," said Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past two decades locked up by the junta.

The NLD's decision to boycott the first election in 20 years deeply split the opposition, between those in agreement and others who saw the vote as a chance for gradual change, albeit through a deeply flawed electoral process.

Suu Kyi's closest political allies reacted angrily after a group of former NLD members broke away and set up a new party, the National Democratic Force to contest the poll, accusing them of betraying their colleagues.

A leaked diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Yangon expressed concern about the ageing party leaders, whom it described as "elderly NLD uncles".

"The way the Uncles run the NLD indicates the party is not the last great hope for democracy and Burma," said the 2008 confidential memo, released by the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks earlier this month.

"The Party is strictly hierarchical, new ideas are not solicited or encouraged from younger members, and the Uncles regularly expel members they believe are 'too active'," it said.

Suu Kyi has said one of her tasks will be to restore unity within the fractious pro-democracy forces following last month's election, in which the junta's political proxies claimed an overwhelming victory.

She has held talks with other opposition camps since her release on November 13, days after the vote, but acknowledged that divisions remained.

"Of course it's true that we are not united as a whole. But this is normal and natural. No two persons think alike," she said.

"There are many people working for the same goal. They have different ideas and try their best to reach that goal. So we must try to achieve unity as much as possible."

Suu Kyi has called -- so far in vain -- for talks with the military rulers and suggested a softening of her earlier support for economic sanctions against the generals.

She said that she was not planning to offer support for an end to the US and European punitive measures in return for concessions from the regime.

"I don't look at sanctions as a bargaining chip but as a way of trying to improve the situation," she added.

Suu Kyi's party has also softened its previous opposition to tourists visiting Myanmar, although it says people should avoid joining tour groups because the government could benefit financially.

The democracy icon said her party's senior members had decided several months ago, while she was under house arrest, that they would "stand strongly against group tourists".

But "they would not object to individual tourists coming to study the situation and to find out what is really happening in Burma. This would also bring income into private enterprises," she said.