National Geographic : 2011 Aug
• generals---have ignored her overtures. "We keep the door open," Suu Kyi says. "Nothing will be accomplished without dialogue." Over the years cartoons in the state-run me- dia have depicted the elegant Lady as an evil ogre with fangs, feeding on Western handouts. e attacks ceased for a few months a er her release. But when the NLD issued a statement in February defending Western sanctions against the regime, an editorial in an o cial newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, warned that Suu Kyi and her party would "meet their tragic ends." A rhetorical threat, perhaps, but few can forget the attack on her convoy the last time she was free, in 2003; it le at least a dozen followers dead. Sanctions may be one of Suu Kyi's last cards. A wide spectrum of international observers--- including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clin- ton---has judged sanctions ine ective in Myan- mar, largely because other countries, such as China, have no qualms about doing business with the government. "We're willing to com- promise," Suu Kyi insists. But a er two decades of sacri ce, she won't call for an easing of sanc- tions unless there are serious concessions, start- ing with the release of Myanmar's more than 2,000 political prisoners. "If sanctions are not e ective," she asks archly, "then why are the re- gime and its friends so desperate to see them disappear?" It seems that the government covets the one thing the Lady has that it has never pos- sessed: legitimacy in the eyes of the world. IF YOU COME TO NAY PYI TAW looking for clues about Myanmar's leadership, the first thing you'll nd is an unsettling void: smooth ten-lane roads with manicured roundabouts but scarcely any vehicles, clusters of color-coded government housing complexes with no children in sight, a copy of Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda with not a single Buddhist monk chanting prayers. It all feels like an abandoned movie set until you drive toward the military zone, an o -limits area where an Shwe keeps his home and secretive high command. There, beyond the rumbling army trucks and the vast parade ground, stand the symbols of the regime: massive statues of Myanmar's three most revered ancient kings. Welcome to the Abode of Kings, Myanmar's capital as of 2005, a strange utopia built on fear and hubris. A former mailman who honed his skills in the army's psychological-warfare depart- ment, an Shwe self-consciously assumed the mantle of Myanmar's ancient monarchs---to the point where supplicants reportedly must use a royal form of Burmese to address him and his wife. Myanmar's kings had a penchant for build- ing new capitals as legacies of their rule, from the pagodas at Bagan to the royal palace in Manda- lay. Now there's Nay Pyi Taw. e new capital may feel soulless, but for rul- ers distrustful of their own people, it could be a masterpiece of defensive urban planning. Wor- ried about an imminent attack in Yangon, an Shwe poured several billion dollars into building the city on scrubland in central Myanmar, safe from killer storms, foreign invasion, and domes- tic protests. In design, Nay Pyi Taw is not really a city but a series of isolated zones dispersed over an area larger than Rhode Island. Government ministries, once clustered in crowded Yangon, are laid out at wide intervals, accessible only by heavily patrolled roads. e military zone is a bubble within a bubble, forbidden to all but top officers---and reportedly honeycombed with underground bunkers. In a city built by construction workers earn- ing less than a dollar a day, the generals have splurged on some extravagances: an Olympic- size soccer stadium, a zoo equipped with an air-conditioned penguin house, a safari park, even a 480-acre "landmark garden" with minia- ture reproductions of Myanmar's most famous sites, including wooden houses inhabited, on occasion, by ethnic minorities in native garb---a sort of human zoo. Cartoons in the state- run media have depict- ed Aung San Suu Kyi as an evil ogre. In February an official newspaper warned that she and her party would "meet their tragic ends."