Two earthquakes hit Burma on July 10. The first measured 6.6 on the Richter scale and did little damage in the remote northeast. The second was the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. Aftershocks still reverberate.
So timid was the government that it allowed no news of Mrs. Suu Kyi's freedom in Burma's controlled media for 10 days. But her supporters knew and flocked to her house. Politics resumed. The opposition, suppressed, sprang to life. The cautious generals must have intended as much.
Mrs. Suu Kyi's father, Gen. Aung San, led Burma to democratic independence in 1948. Gen. Ne Win seized power in 1962, destroying freedoms and taking the country into socialist isolation. One of Asia's richest nations became one of its poorest.
Mrs. Suu Kyi was brought up in exile as an Anglified Oxford intellectual, housewife and mother. She returned to her country to lead democracy demonstrations in 1988. Gen. Ne Win retired. The country has been ruled since by a junta calling itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). It also calls the country Myanmar, but most Burmese don't. At 84, Gen. Ne Win lives on, a gray eminence of probably decisive influence.
Mrs. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest in 1989, cut off from her family in England. Her party won election in 1990, and by rights should govern. Instead, its leaders were jailed. Aung San Suu Kyi's courageous eloquence kept the idea of democracy and the hopes of 45 million Burmese alive. That earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Now, from the moment of her freedom, her message has been hope, moderation and reconciliation. Perhaps she is Burma's Nelson Mandela, let out to cooperate with the rulers to free the country from their mistakes. She brought up the analogy.
That would be understandable. Burma missed out on Asia's economic miracle because of its dictators' wrong-headedness. More recently, the current leader, Gen. Than Shwe, has lightened the SLORC's grip while gaining the upper hand over ethnic Karen guerrillas. The SLORC now welcomes foreign investment, which Burma desperately needs. But world opprobrium based on human rights deficiencies curtails it.
The greatest hope must be that Gen. Than Shwe understands the legitimacy of Aung San Suu Kyi as the solution to Burma's problem. She clearly urges dialogue over devastation. The SLORC generals should be applauded for this first step in freeing the nation's popular and uncorruptable leader.
The United States should encourage them to cooperate with her in creating conditions for ending Burma's isolation. They at least raised the possibility.