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NATMAUK TOWNSHIP—Aung San Suu Kyi made a visit to her father Gen Aung San’s birthplace, Natmauk Township in Magwe Division, on Saturday to mark National Day. It was the first time in decades that she was able to visit her ancestral home and she was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd of several thousand people, eager to get a glimpse of the opposition leader.
Suu Kyi had travelled several hundred kilometers from her Naypyidaw residence and said she was glad to be back in Natmauk town on the occasion of National Day, which commemorates the first large protests against British colonial rule in Burma in 1920.
“I am really proud to have Natmauk blood,’” she told the crowd, who had come out in large numbers wearing traditional dress and waving thousands of red flags of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Suu Kyi said the area had produced outstanding leaders and intellectuals in the past, adding that she hoped the township in central Burma could maintain this tradition.
Aung San is considered the father of modern Burma for his role in the country’s independence movement and he was born in 1915 in Natmauk town, where his old home is a museum that draws several hundred visitors per month.
He was assassinated in July 1947 soon after brokering the Panglong Agreement, which would have granted autonomy to Burma’s main ethnic regions. Fighting between the central government and ethnic rebels has plagued Burma ever since.
Suu Kyi last visited Natmauk town after the cancelled 1990 election, but military-regime officials prevented her from addressing local residents at the time. Townsman Zay Nee recalled, “They did not want the people to see her. That’s why they cut off the power during her evening speech.”
Local NLD member Chit Aung said authorities had also tried to refuse the NLD permission to host Saturday’s event, but the party had defied them. “We told them off, saying that that there is no law against it,” he told The Irrawaddy.
In her speech, Suu Kyi urged people to work for national reconciliation among ethnic groups and to raise education levels and help develop a new, harmonious Burma. “We need to understand each other. We even need to wish the military well,” she said.
Suu Kyi stated that roads, water and energy supplies should be developed in rural areas such as Natmauk Township, where agriculture suffers from regular droughts, adding that reducing youth unemployment and corruption were also priorities.
She took a moment to lower the enormous expectations that people have of her leadership. “I don’t mean that I cannot take my responsibility. I can do it, but I do not want our people to rely on others instead of having confidence in themselves,” she said.
Local residents were elated after Suu Kyi’s speech, but bitterness over the long years of military-rule lingered, with some saying that the town had been deprived of development by the previous government because of its link with the NLD leader.
“We suffered for 24 years. We had to give them (government) things every day, but they never gave us back anything,” said Sein Myaing.
The NLD leader has planned another rural trip on Dec. 18 to Mergui Township, Tenasserim Division.