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The Lady vanishes: Suu Kyi back under house arrest

Bangkok, Thailand

The Myanmar military’s detention of Aung San Suu Kyi during this week’s coup has revived memories of her more than 15 years of house arrest at a lakeside villa in Yangon during the country’s last period of junta rule.

Under the cover of darkness early Monday, soldiers took Myanmar’s de facto leader — who became a beacon for democracy in the 1990s and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate — back into custody.

A lawmaker from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, who requested anonymity, said Suu Kyi was under house arrest again, this time at her official residence in the capital Naypyidaw.

“We were informed not to worry. However we are worrying. It will be a relief if we can see a photo,” he said.

NLD press officer Kyi Toe said neighbours had spotted Suu Kyi walking around within the walls of her compound on Tuesday morning.

Yangon-based analyst Khin Zaw Win said it appeared Suu Kyi was safe for now.

“All reports indicate she is not in danger,” he said.

But it is likely the military has made a strategic decision to keep her hidden, Herve Lemahieu from Australia’s Lowy Institute said.

“I think the idea is very much to keep her away from public view… she’s being kept in Naypyidaw… far from all the major population centres where protesters may rally. I think that’s a deliberate choice,” Lemahieu told.

It is in the military’s interest to ensure Suu Kyi remains in good health, he said.

“Senior officials realise if she were to fall ill or die whilst under arrest people would suspect foul play and that may well provoke a very severe backlash,” Lemahieu said.

Daily meditation

Suu Kyi is no stranger to life as a prisoner of the military.

After her party won the 1990 elections the generals refused to hand over power, and she was placed under house arrest multiple times.

Confined to her family’s colonial-era villa on the shores of Yangon’s Lake Inya, she was sometimes seen delivering speeches about democracy to crowds numbering in the hundreds or thousands who had gathered on the other side of her garden fence.

German film-maker Marc Eberle, who interviewed Suu Kyi over many months for the 2012 documentary “The Choice” expects her to be coping well under the circumstances.

“She’s very experienced, she used to do meditation every day and mental health exercises,” he told.

“Obviously it’s stressful but she would be used to it.”

Suu Kyi became a global democracy icon for her grace and peaceful resistance to military authoritarian rule.

But two years after finally taking power, following Myanmar’s democratic transition in 2015, the gloss started to come off her image.

She lost favour with the West over her handling of the 2017 Rohingya crisis — which saw 750,000 Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh to escape a brutal military crackdown.

United Nations investigators called for the prosecution of Myanmar’s army chief and five other top military commanders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Suu Kyi later travelled to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on behalf of the generals who have now imprisoned her, to rebut allegations of rape, arson and mass killings.

In the top job, she also showed little concern for the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar under apartheid-like conditions.

“The west completely romanticised her when she was under house arrest, so (it was confronting) to take a look at the real person and not our… version of this Oxford-sounding lady,” Eberle said.

If the military keeps Suu Kyi locked up as their putsch unfolds, Eberle expects the fallen idol to see some of that sympathy return.

And as she enters another stint of house arrest, she remains in the hearts of many in Myanmar.

“Aung San Suu Kyi is God to our country,” Merra, a 20-year-old Burmese national attending a protest in Bangkok against the coup, told.

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