Aung San Suu Kyi


The influence of Europe begins to be felt in the Irrawaddy Delta in the 16th Century. British intrusion mounts at the start of the 19th Century, culminating in 1886 when Britain takes full control of the country, naming it Burma. The British are temporarily forced out by the Japanese during the Second World War and leave for good in 1948 when Burma is declared independent.

In 1962 the Burmese Government is overthrown in a military coup d'état led by General Ne Win. The coup leaders attempt to create a single-party socialist state but end up ruining the country's economy. Popular unrest against the military regime grows, coming to a head in 1987-88 when rioting breaks out. The regime responds with force. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 19 June 1945 in Rangoon (now Yangon), Burma (now Myanmar). Her father, Aung San, is Burma's most respected independence hero. Her mother, Ma Khin Kyi, is a senior nurse at Rangoon general hospital and will become a leading public figure and diplomat.

1947 - Suu Kyi's father is assassinated in Rangoon on 19 July.

1960 - Suu Kyi moves to New Delhi when her mother is appointed Burma's ambassador to India. While in India Suu Kyi becomes interested in Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance. After studying politics at Delhi University, she enrolls at the University of Oxford in England.

1964-67 - She studies for a BA in philosophy, politics and economics at St Hugh's College, Oxford. While at the university she meets her future husband, Michael Aris. The couple marry on 1 January 1972. They will have two sons, Alexander and Kim. Before they marry Suu Kyi tells Aris, "I only ask one thing, that should my people need me, you would help me do my duty by them."

1969-71 - Suu Kyi works as assistant secretary to a United Nations (UN) committee in New York. In 1972 she joins her husband in Bhutan, where he tutors the Bhutanese royal family and heads the Translation Department. Suu Kyi serves as a research officer in the Bhutan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

1973 - Suu Kyi and her husband return to England for the birth of their first son, Alexander. The following year they move to Oxford, where Michael has obtained a post in Tibetan and Himalayan studies at the university.

1977 - The couple have their second son, Kim. While raising her sons, Suu Kyi begins researching and writing a biography of her father, published in 1984. Books on Burma, Nepal and Bhutan follow.

1985 - Suu Kyi travels to Japan with her son Kim to take up the post of visiting scholar at the Centre of Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University. Her husband journeys with their son Alexander to Simla in northern India, where he has a fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.

1987 - The family is reunited at Simla when Suu Kyi also receives a fellowship at the Indian Institute. When they return to Oxford, Suu Kyi enrolls at the London School of Oriental and African Studies to work on an advanced degree.

1988 - On 31 March, Suu Kyi receives a telephone call informing her that her mother has suffered a severe stroke. She flies to Rangoon the next day.

Meanwhile, student-led protests against Burma's military regime break out in Rangoon in March and June. The protests are triggered by a currency devaluation that wipes out the value of most people's savings without warning or compensation.

The regime responds to the protests with force but loses its grip on power when Ne Win steps down on 23 July.

Ominously, in his last public address before leaving office, Ne Win warns, "If in the future there are mob disturbances, if the army shoots, it hits."

Sein Lwin, the head of the riot police and a close associate of Ne Win, is put in control of the government. He quickly orders the imposition of martial law.

The movement for democracy gains momentum during the so-called 'Democracy Summer' or 'Rangoon Spring', culminating in a mass uprising on 8 August that spreads from Rangoon across the entire country. The uprising is squashed when the military fires on the demonstrators, killing thousands. (Sources estimate between 3,000 and 10,000 die). The bloodshed comes to an end on 12 August when it is announced that Sein Lwin, the so-called 'Butcher of Burma', has resigned.

As the daughter of Burma's foremost independence hero, Suu Kyi is drawn into the democracy movement. On 15 August she sends an open letter to the government asking for the formation of an independent People's Consultative Committee to prepare for multiparty elections.

On 26 August she addresses a rally of 500,000 gathered in front of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. "I could not, as my father's daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on," she says. "This national crisis could, in fact, be called the second struggle for independence."

She calls on the military government to cease using force and reiterates her proposal for the establishment of a consultative committee to help resolve the crisis. However, on 18 September, following a bloody power struggle within the government, it is announced that there has been a military coup.

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), a junta composed of 21 senior military officers led by Saw Maung, the military commander-in-chief, now rules Burma under martial law. It is later reported that Maung had been instructed to stage the coup by Ne Win.

SLORC claims it will turn over power after free and fair elections, but political gatherings of more than four persons are banned and force is again used to suppress demonstrators.

The opposition is formally organised into the National League for Democracy (NLD) on 24 September, with Suu Kyi as secretary-general. Defying the ban, she speaks at over 100 public meetings during extensive campaign tours across the country. She advocates nonviolent protest, urges the UN to intervene and accuses Ne Win of controlling SLORC behind the scenes.

Suu Kyi's mother dies on 27 December. At the funeral held on 2 January 1989, Suu Kyi vows to follow the example of her mother and father and selflessly serve the people of Burma without fear of the personal cost.

1989 - Suu Kyi continues her campaign despite intimidation by the junta, which prohibits her from standing for election. On 5 April, while touring the country, she is confronted by soldiers blocking a street down which she and her supporters are walking. When the soldiers threaten to shot, Suu Kyi asks her companions to step aside and then walks up to and past the rifles aimed at her. At the last moment the soldiers are ordered not to fire. "It seemed so much simpler to provide them with a single target than to bring everyone else in," she later says.

In June the country's name is officially changed to the Union of Myanmar, and the name of the capital from Rangoon to Yangon. The same month, troops shoot at Suu Kyi's car in Rangoon.

Suu Kyi is placed under house arrest in Rangoon on 20 July for "endangering the state." She lives alone and is only allowed visits from members of her immediate family. Under the laws of the junta she can be held without charge or trial for three years. The period for detention without charge or trial is extended to five years in 1991.

While under arrest Suu Kyi begins a hunger strike in support of her jailed colleagues. She ends her fast after 12 days when the junta assures her that the political prisoners will not be maltreated. The military offer to free her if she leaves Burma but she refuses to go until the country is returned to civilian government and political prisoners are freed.

1990 - A multiparty general election is held on 27 May. The NLD wins 82% of the seats contested. However, the junta ignores the results, refuses to allow the parliament to convene, and jails the NLD's elected candidates.

The junta says it cannot accept the establishment of a civilian government based on an interim constitution and that it will not hand over power until a new constitution is passed by a national convention.

In July the junta revokes Suu Kyi's right to visits from her immediate family. All outside contact is forbidden, including by post.

Suu Kyi's plight comes to world attention. She is described as 'Burma's Gandhi'. The secretary-general of the UN repeatedly calls for her release, and governments around the world urge SLORC to respect the election results.

Further recognition comes when she is awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The prize seeks "in the spirit of Andrei Sakharov ... to honour individuals or organisations who have devoted themselves to the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the struggle against oppression and injustice."

1991 - On 14 October, Suu Kyi is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights."

"She became the leader of a democratic opposition which employs nonviolent means to resist a regime characterised by brutality," the Nobel Committee says.

"She also emphasises the need for conciliation between the sharply divided regions and ethnic groups in her country.

"Suu Kyi's struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. She has become an important symbol in the struggle against oppression."

At the award presentation ceremony held in Oslo on 10 December the chairman of the Nobel Committee says, "In the good fight for peace and reconciliation, we are dependent on persons who set examples, persons who can symbolise what we are seeking and mobilise the best in us. Aung San Suu Kyi is just such a person. ...

"We ordinary people, I believe, feel that with her courage and her high ideals, Aung San Suu Kyi brings out something of the best in us. We feel we need precisely her sort of person in order to retain our faith in the future. That is what gives her such power as a symbol, and that is why any ill-treatment of her feels like a violation of what we have most at heart."

Full copy of the presentation speech.

Suu Kyi's sons accept the award in her absence. "(The military) regime has through almost 30 years of misrule reduced the once prosperous 'Golden Land' of Burma to one of the world's most economically destitute nations," her son Alexander says in the acceptance speech he delivers on behalf of his mother.

"In their heart of hearts even those in power now in Rangoon must know that their eventual fate will be that of all totalitarian regimes who seek to impose their authority through fear, repression and hatred."

Full copy of acceptance speech.

Suu Kyi announces that she will use the US$1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people.

Speaking 21 years later, when she is finally able to give her Nobel lecture in person, Suu Kyi says, "When I joined the democracy movement in Burma, it never occurred to me that I might ever be the recipient of any prize or honour.

"The prize we were working for was a free, secure and just society where our people might be able to realise their full potential. The honour lay in our endeavour. History had given us the opportunity to give of our best for a cause in which we believed.

"When the Nobel Committee chose to honour me, the road I had chosen of my own free will became a less lonely path to follow. For this I thank the committee, the people of Norway and peoples all over the world whose support has strengthened my faith in the common quest for peace."

Full copy of Nobel lecture.

In December her book, 'Freedom from Fear', is published.

1992 - In April, Saw Maung is replaced as chairman of SLORC, prime minister and military commander-in-chief by General Than Shwe. On 24 April the junta announces that it will organise a national convention to draft a new constitution.

1993 - The first session of the national constitutional convention is held on 9 January. Over 80% of the 702 delegates are directly appointed by the junta. The NLD is represented by 86 delegates.

1994 - The junta announces it can detain Suu Kyi for up to six years without charge or trial.

Suu Kyi calls for dialogue. Than Shwe and General Khin Nyunt, the chief of military intelligence, subsequently meet with her on 20 September. It is their first meeting since Suu Kyi's arrest. She meets with Khin Nyunt again on 28 October.

1995 - Suu Kyi is freed from house arrest on 10 July but is not allowed to travel outside Rangoon. She continues her calls for dialogue and a peaceful transition to a democratic government, using weekend talks to crowds outside her house to convey her message to the Burmese people and the world.

In November the NLD walks out of the national constitutional convention, arguing that the convention is undemocratic and that the draft constitution would entrench military control of the government.

On 29 November the junta formally expels all of the NLD delegates. The convention is completely suspended on 31 March the following year.

Over Christmas, Suu Kyi's husband Michael travels to Burma to be with his wife. It is the last time the couple will meet.

1996 - In May over 256 members of the NLD are arrested or detained. In June the junta forbids the unauthorised writing of a state constitution. The penalty for violation is 20 years imprisonment. On 19 June 100 of Suu Kyi's friends are prevented from visiting her at home to celebrate her fifty-second birthday.

On 26 September, 159 NLD delegates and 414 supporters around the country are arrested ahead of an NLD congress. Suu Kyi's Rangoon residence is blockaded by the junta and she is prevented from giving her weekend talks.

Large-scale student demonstrations against the junta break out in October, continuing until the end of the year. SLORC detains over 200 NLD activists and confines Suu Kyi to her residence.

On 9 November a 200-strong mob thought to be members of the government-sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Association attack an NLD motorcade carrying Suu Kyi as it travels in broad daylight through Rangoon. Neither the police nor army officers intervene and no one is ever charged.

1997 - Although the crackdown against it continues, the NLD is allowed to hold a congress at Suu Kyi's Rangoon residence.

The international community begins to act in response to the ongoing repression. The European Union (EU) introduces limited sanctions against the junta. Tougher sanctions are implemented by the US in May.

However, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) takes a conciliatory line, admitting Burma as a full member on 23 July.

The junta, meanwhile, undergoes a shakeup after a dressing down by Ne Win. On 15 November SLORC dissolves itself, reforming as the 19-member State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), chaired by Than Shwe. Maung Aye is deputy-chairman, and Khin Nyunt is first secretary.

1998 - In July, Suu Kyi makes several attempts to leave Rangoon to meet with NLD officials but is stopped each time by the military at the city's border and forced back to her home. During one standoff beginning on 23 July Suu Kyi remains by her car for six days.

She again attempts to leave Rangoon on 12 August and is again stopped. Once more she refuses to leave her car, camping by the stationary vehicle for 13 days.

1999 - Suu Kyi's husband Michael is diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. The junta refuses to grant him a visa to visit his wife before he dies but says it will allow Suu Kyi to leave the country to visit him. She declines, fearing she will not be allowed back into the country if she leaves. Her husband dies on 27 March.

In December the junta allows Suu Kyi's sons to travel to Burma to visit her.

2000 - Suu Kyi is stopped by police when she attempts to travel to the countryside on 24 August. This standoff, during which she and her supporters again remain camped by the roadside, lasts until 2 September when she is forced to return to the capital and is placed under virtual house arrest.

On 21 September she attempts to travel to the northern city of Mandalay by train but is not permitted to board. Suu Kyi is placed under house arrest and 92 members of the NLD are detained.

The NLD announces plans to draw up a new constitution in contravention of the law forbidding such action without approval from the junta.

2001 - Suu Kyi remains under virtual house arrest, although it is revealed in January that UN-brokered talks between her and the junta recommenced in October 2000. The talks are reported to have been initiated by Khin Nyunt, with the backing of the now 90-year-old Ne Win.

The junta is said to be prepared to allow a return to democracy provided there is a transitional power-sharing arrangement between themselves and the NLD. They also want guaranteed immunity from prosecution for past human rights abuses, and a commitment from Suu Kyi that she will give up any personal political ambition.

2002 - Following a secret meeting between Suu Kyi and Than Shwe in January the junta steps up the release of political prisoners and the NLD is allowed to reopen 35 of its branches in Rangoon.

On 6 May, Suu Kyi is released from her 19-month detention. The restrictions on her political activity are lifted. She is free to travel around the country and to lead the NLD, although her activities will be closely monitored by the junta.

In her first press conference after her release she says she is ready to start talks with the junta on a transition to civilian rule.

"I am sorry to have kept you waiting," she begins. "My release is not a major triumph for democracy; my freedom is not the object of our struggle.

"I have never wavered in my commitment to achieving democracy. Unless we can attain democracy by peaceful means we will simply be storing up more trouble for our people in the future.

"I will do everything I can to see that democracy comes to Burma very quickly and comes in the right way. We have always been flexible; we want to be flexible. And we want to negotiate an agreement for the betterment of the people of Burma."

At the end of July more political prisoners are released. Further releases follow in August. However, the junta refuses to be drawn on when talks with Suu Kyi will begin, despite the continuing efforts of the UN to bring the parties together and the adoption by Suu Kyi of a more conciliatory stance.

By 19 August the prospect of talks appears remote, with Khin Nyunt stating that a transition to democracy cannot be "done in haste and in a haphazard manner."

In the closing months of the year Suu Kyi makes extensive tours of the country's regional areas. She is enthusiastically received by the people but regularly subjected to harassment from the authorities and the government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which is chaired by Than Shwe.

2003 - On 27 May, to mark the 13th anniversary of the NLD's landslide victory in the still unrecognised general election, Suu Kyi makes her strongest statement against the junta since her release from house arrest in May 2002.

"The NLD must stand up firmly to achieve the results of the elections of 1990," she says. "To ignore the result of the 1990 elections is to have total disrespect for the people and is also an insult to the people."

The junta is said to be furious with the statement and worried by Suu Kyi's growing popularity.

Harassment of Suu Kyi by members of the USDA and intimidation of her supporters begins to rise, culminating in a deadly confrontation on the evening of 30 May, as Suu Kyi draws to the end of a month-long tour of the north.

At least four and possibly more than 80 people are killed when a pro-junta crowd stops Suu Kyi's motorcade near the village of Depayin, about 100 km northwest of Mandalay.

Suu Kyi is taken into "protective custody" by security forces and returned to Rangoon, where she is held incommunicado, reportedly in a two-room hut at the Insein Prison on the outskirts of the capital.

Nineteen other leaders of the NLD are also held in "protective custody." NLD offices throughout Burma are closed and university campuses and secondary schools are shut for two weeks.

The conditions of Suu Kyi's detention remain unclear until 10 June when UN special envoy Razali Ismail is allowed to see her. Razali reports that "she is well and in good spirits." However, she is still wearing the clothes she was arrested in.

In response to Suu Kyi's arrest, the US, the EU, Britain and Canada extend the sanctions against the junta.

China, however, advises nonintervention and in September loans the Burmese Government US$200 million to buy Chinese goods, including military equipment.

Japan, Burma's leading foreign aid donor, threatens to review its aid program if the junta does not release Suu Kyi "immediately" and allow democratic reforms. On 25 June financial aid for new development projects is suspended.

ASEAN issues an unprecedented joint statement saying it looks forward to the early lifting of restrictions placed on Suu Kyi and the NLD but remains opposed to the use of economic and political sanctions against the junta.

At the start of July it is reported that Suu Kyi has been removed from the Insein Prison to a military guesthouse outside Rangoon.

First hand news on Suu Kyi's well-being emerges on 29 July, after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is allowed to visit her at an undisclosed location. According to ICRC's representative in Burma, Michel Ducreaux, "It was a very decent place and the conditions were also very decent. ... She was in very good health and she wasn't hurt at all. She was in high spirits."

At the end of August the leadership of the SPDC is reorganised, with hardliners being brought into top positions while the relatively pragmatic Khin Nyunt is shifted into the largely ceremonial post of prime minister. Several days later, on 30 August, Khin Nyunt unveils the junta's "road map to democracy", a plan to restart the constitutional convention suspended in 1996 as a first step towards "free and fair" elections.

However, the plan lacks a specific timetable and makes no reference to the role of Suu Kyi and the NLD.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi is transferred to the Asia Royal Hospital in Rangoon for a hysterectomy on 19 September. She is discharged on 26 September and allowed to return to her home to recuperate. She remains under house arrest and incommunicado, although UN special envoy Razali Ismail is allowed to visit her on 1 October.

2004 - UN special envoy Razali Ismail returns to Burma on 1 March, emerging up-beat about the prospects for democracy following meetings with Suu Kyi and Khin Nyunt.

On 30 March the junta announces that the constitutional convention will be reconvened on 17 May. All the delegates to the previous convention, including those from the NLD, are later invited to attend the meeting, which is to be held at Nyaung Hnapin, Hmawbi township, 32 km north of Rangoon. However, Suu Kyi is left off the list, on the grounds that she did not attend the first convention (she was in detention at the time).

The NLD refuses to consider the invitation until Suu Kyi and other members of the NLD Central Committee are free to meet and discuss the matter. The Karen National Union, which represents Burma's largest ethnic minority, also refuses to attend until Suu Kyi is released and the junta implements basic political reforms.

On 27 April the entire nine-member Central Committee of the NLD, including the still detained Suu Kyi and party Deputy Chairman Tin Oo, are allowed to meet at Suu Kyi's residence. It is the first time Suu Kyi has been permitted to meet with members of the NLD since her rearrest.

Two days later, following a second meeting of the Central Committee, the party announces that it is prepared to participate in the constitutional convention if Suu Kyi and Tin Oo are freed, and provided all NLD offices across the country are allowed to reopen.

However, the junta refuses to accept the NLD's demands, saying Suu Kyi and Tin Oo will remain detained "for the time being to ensure the peaceful development of the national convention." On 14 May the NLD announces that it will not attend the convention, throwing the meeting's legitimacy into question.

The convention proceeds nevertheless. Held under strict security and with limited press coverage, it is attended by 1,076 delegates, including representatives from 17 former ethnic insurgent groups. It is subsequently described by Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights to Burma, as a "meaningless and undemocratic exercise."

"In all the transitions that I know ... I don't know a single transition that has operated under these constraints," Pinheiro says. "I don't understand the purpose of this surrealistic exercise. ... It will not work. It will not work because it has not worked in Brazil, in Uruguay, in Argentina, in Portugal, in Spain, in the Philippines, in Indonesia. This way of political transition will not work; will not work on the moon, will not work on Mars."

The convention goes into recess on 9 July. It will reconvene periodically over the coming years. The NLD will continue its boycott.

The prospects for political reform in Burma and the release of Suu Kyi are further dimmed on 18 October when Khin Nyunt is charged with corruption by the junta, removed from office and put under house arrest. He is replaced as prime minister by Lieutenant-general Soe Win, a hard-line protégé of Than Shwe.

Soe Win is believed to have been involved in the planning of the attack on Suu Kyi on 30 May 2003. The international humanitarian organisation Human Rights Watch reports that he has stated publicly that "the SPDC not only will not talk to the NLD but also would never hand over power to the NLD."

On 27 November the junta informs Suu Kyi that she will remain under house arrest for at least another year.

2005 - Suu Kyi passes a milestone on 24 October. The date marks the tenth full year she has been held in custody. NLD deputy chairman Tin Oo also remains in custody.

On 27 November the junta extends Suu Kyi's current period of house arrest for another six months.

2006 - On 18 May the UN Undersecretary-general for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, is allowed entry to Burma for a three day visit. He meets with Suu Kyi and with Than Shwe. It is the first time Suu Kyi has been allowed a visit from a foreigner in over two years.

Eight days later, on 26 May, Suu Kyi's detention under house arrest is extended for another year.

Gambari returns to Burma on 9 November and again meets with Suu Kyi, reporting she remains in relatively good health despite being denied visits by her doctor since 24 August.

A week later Suu Kyi receives a medical checkup, including an ultrasound.

2007 - On 25 May, Suu Kyi's detention is extended for yet another year.

In August protesters begin to take to Burma's streets after the junta raises the price of cooking gas by 500% and doubles the cost of transport fuels. The protest movement gains momentum and comes to be know as the 'Saffron Revolution' when Buddhist monks join in then take the lead.

Demonstrations continue for six weeks, growing in size and spreading throughout the country. They are the largest protests seen in Burma since the 'Democracy Summer' of 1988.

On 22 September the monks symbolically link Suu Kyi to the movement when hundreds of them are allowed to march past her house in Rangoon. A weeping Suu Kyi appears briefly to greet them as they pass. It is her first public appearance in four years. Two days later as many as 100,000 protesters led by thousands of monks march in Rangoon.

The junta cracks down on 26 September. At least 15 people are killed, including a Japanese journalist, when the military resorts to violence to disperse the crowds, using tear gas and truncheons then opening fire with rubber bullets and live rounds. It is reported that Than Shwe has ordered the soldiers to shoot to kill. Opposition groups claim that hundreds are killed. Close to 3,000 people are arrested, including hundreds of monks.

At the start of November UN Special Rapporteur Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro is allowed to visit the country for the first time in four years. He estimates that at least 31 were killed in the crackdown. His report lists a further 74 persons who have disappeared and 653 who remain in custody.

Meanwhile, the constitutional convention concludes on 3 September with the release of a set of guidelines that entrench the power of the military and bar Suu Kyi from holding political office. A junta-appointed panel begins to draft the constitution in December.

On 11 October the UN Security Council issues a statement strongly deploring the military crackdown and calling for the release of all political prisoners and the opening of "genuine dialogue" with Suu Kyi and other concerned parties. An earlier, stronger version of the statement had been watered-down at the instance of China and Russia.

The EU widens its limited sanctions on Burma on 15 October. The US extends its sanctions on 19 October and again in December.

On 8 November, Suu Kyi announces that she is ready to "cooperate with the government in order to make (the) process of dialogue a success."

She is allowed to meet with leaders of the NLD on 9 November. It is the first such meeting in more than three years. Suu Kyi is reported to look "fit, well and energetic" and to be "very optimistic" about the prospects of dialogue with the junta.

Suu Kyi also has periodic meetings with a government liaison officer, though she later reports to the NLD that she is unsatisfied with the progress of these talks.

2008 - In a surprise move, the junta announces on 9 February that a referendum on the new constitution will be held in May, to be followed by a multiparty, democratic election in 2010.

The constitution, which is finalised on 19 February, gives ultimate power to the army commander-in-chief and allocates 25% of the seats in parliament to unelected military appointees.

Public servants and military personnel are ordered to vote in favour of the constitution. Opponents are threatened and arrested. The poll is to be administered by the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association. The junta forbids foreign observers.

The NLD and other opposition groups urge the Burmese people to reject the document when they vote.

On the evening of 2 May, eight days before the constitution referendum is scheduled to take place, a powerful cyclone blasts in from the Andaman Sea, crosses the Irrawaddy Delta and heads for Rangoon. Burma's southwest, the country's most populous and productive region, is devastated by winds that reach 190 kilometres per hour and by the 3.5 metre tidal surge and torrential rain that follows. Much of Rangoon is battered. It is reported that part of the roof of Suu Kyi's house is blown off.

By 24 June the official death toll is 84,537. Another 53,836 are listed as missing. The Red Cross estimates that the final death toll could be as high as 128,000. (A later study by Local to Global Protection puts the figure at 200,000.) Over two million are estimated to be homeless.

Despite the crisis, the junta insists that the constitution referendum go ahead on 10 May as scheduled in all but the hardest-hit areas (where the vote is held two weeks later). The result is never in doubt. According to the junta, 92% of eligible voters approve the document.

The NLD rejects the vote, saying the junta has used "coercion, intimidation, deception, misinformation and undue influence, abuse of power to get the affirmative vote."

Meanwhile, the US Senate votes to confer the Congressional Gold Medal on Suu Kyi. The medal is the United States' highest civilian honour.

On 27 May, Suu Kyi's detention is extended for another year. It will be her sixth consecutive year under house arrest, despite a Burmese law requiring those held for five years to be either tried or set free.

To protest her continued house arrest and the lack of progress in talks with the junta, Suu Kyi refuses to accept food delivered to her home. She also refuses to meet with UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari when he visits Burma at the end of August. In September she refuses to meet her doctor and the government's liaison officer.

Later in September the junta grants Suu Kyi some small concessions. She is allowed to receive regular mail, including letters from her sons, and deliveries of selected foreign news journals. Her two housekeepers are also allowed greater freedom of movement.

2009 - On 6 May a US citizen, John William Yettaw, is arrested in Rangoon after reportedly swimming to Suu Kyi's lakeside house and staying there for two days.

On 14 May, just two weeks before her period of detention is due to expire, Suu Kyi and her two housekeepers are arrested and taken to Insein prison. Suu Kyi is charged with breaching the terms of her detention by providing Yettaw with shelter. She faces between three and five years jail.

Suu Kyi's trial begins on 18 May at the Insein Special Court. The result is a foregone conclusion.

Suu Kyi pleads not guilty to the charges. "This incident (Yettaw's visit) occurred because of a security breach (by authorities)," Suu Kyi says in her statement to the court. "However, until now no action has been taken on security. ...

"The fact that I am the only party being prosecuted shows the partiality of the prosecution. I hereby submit my statement that I do not violate any crime as charged. ...

"I allowed him (Yettaw) to take temporary refuge in my political belief that I will not push anyone into custody. It does not matter who are the intruders or whatever their motive, I just did it out of my political belief."

On 11 August the court delivers its verdict. Suu Kyi is found guilty as charged and sentenced to a further 18 months of house arrest.

At the start of September Suu Kyi's legal team lodge an appeal against the conviction. The appeal is turned down. A second appeal is also rejected. A third appeal is lodged in May 2010.

2010 - On 29 March the NLD announces that it will boycott the national elections. Under the junta's electoral laws, the decision means that the party will cease to formally exist after 6 May, the cut-off date for registration.

At the same time, the junta registers the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to represent its interests at the poll. The party derives from and replaces the Union Solidarity and Development Association, which is subsequently disbanded. Members of the junta begin to resign from the military so they can contest the elections as civilians.

The national election is held on 7 November. The junta claims a landslide victory for the USDP.

Suu Kyi is finally released from house arrest six days later, on 13 November. Thousands of Burmese take to the streets to celebrate her return.

"With the support of the people, I will continue to work towards national reconciliation," she tells a crowd outside the NLD headquarters in Rangoon.

"I cannot say the details of what I am going to do - only that I will work for national reconciliation. ...

"I want to hear the voice of the people. After that we will decide what we want to do. I want to work with all democratic forces. I believe in human rights and I believe in the rule of law."

Speaking to the BBC, she questions the validity of the election. "From what I have heard there are many many questions about the fairness of the election and there are many many allegations of vote rigging and so on," she says, adding that the NLD would investigate the claims.

Suu Kyi says she wants to see a "nonviolent, peaceful revolution" in Burma.

"By revolution I mean a great change for the better. ... I don't want to see the military falling. I want to see the military rising to dignified heights of professionalism and true patriotism."

On 23 November, Suu Kyi's youngest son, Kim, flies into Rangoon to see his mother for the first time in 10 years.

2011 - Burma's new parliament sits for the first time on 1 February. Thein Sein, a former general and close associate of Than Shwe, is appointed president. Than Shwe takes the reins of a new grouping, the State Supreme Council. The council will be the most powerful body in the country. In effect, it replaces the State Peace and Development Council, which is dissolved at the end of March, following the inauguration of the new government.

At the start of April, Than Shwe officially retires as commander-in-chief of the military. Although he now has no official role in the running of the government or military, it is believed he still wields considerable power behind the scenes.

On 22 June, Suu Kyi testifies before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific at the US Congress via a prerecorded video message. She calls on the US to support the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry into alleged human rights violations in Burma. Suu Kyi also asks the US to encourage the Burmese Government to abide by a recent UN resolution calling for the release of political prisoners and the implementation of political reforms.

Suu Kyi begins to test the limits of her freedom. In July she travels outside Rangoon for the first time since her release from house arrest, journeying to the ancient holy city of Pagan with her son, Kim. The four-day trip passes without incident.

On 14 August she makes her first overtly political trip outside Rangoon, travelling to two towns north of Rangoon. Five days later, on 19 August, she travels to Naypyidaw, Burma's administrative capital, and meets with President Thein Sein.

At the start of September an article by Suu Kyi is published in the Burmese press. Speaking later in the month, Suu Kyi says, "I believe we have reached a point where there is an opportunity for change."

The pace of change surprises many observers. Restrictions on the media are eased. Labour unions are granted the right to strike. Electoral laws are loosened, allowing Suu Kyi to run for office. An unpopular, Chinese-sponsored project to dam the Irrawaddy River is shelved. A human rights commission is established.

In October, 6,359 prisoners are granted amnesty and released from jails across the country, including about 200 political prisoners. Further releases of political prisoners follow.

In November, ASEAN announces that Burma will be allowed to chair the association in 2014. The same month, the NLD announces it will formally reregister as a political party and participate in elections.

At the end of November US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Burma and meets with Suu Kyi and Thein Sein. It is the first visit to Burma by a US secretary of state in more than 50 years. Clinton tells Thein Sein that sanctions will only be lifted if all political prisoners are released, if efforts are made to end armed conflicts with Burma's ethnic groups, and if future elections are free, fair and credible. The message is reiterated by British Foreign Secretary William Hague when he visits Burma early in January 2012.

2012 - The NLD's application to reregister is approved by the government at the start of January. Suu Kyi confirms she will run for parliament in by-elections scheduled for 1 April. She will stand for a seat on the southern outskirts of Rangoon.

On 12 January, the government signs a cease-fire agreement with the Karen National Union, the oldest ethnic armed group in Burma. On 13 January, 302 more political prisoners are released from Burma's jails. The US Government restores full diplomatic relations with Burma the same day.

Suu Kyi's campaign speech is aired on state television on 14 and 22 March. It is the first time she has been allowed to use state media for a political broadcast.

Suu Kyi wins her seat in parliament at the 1 April by-elections, and the NLD wins 43 of the 44 seats it contests. However, despite its success at the by-elections, the NLD still only controls a small portion of the 664-seat parliament. Suu Kyi and her 42 NLD colleagues take the oath of office and join the parliament on 2 May.

Following the by-elections, the US announces it will send an ambassador to Burma, set up an office of the US Agency for International Development and support UN development programs. Further easing of sanctions follow, including a suspension of restrictions on US investment in Burma and the relaxation of a ban on imports of Burmese goods into the US.

British Prime Minister David Cameron visits Burma on 13 April and meets with Suu Kyi and Thein Sein. Cameron is the first sitting British prime minister to visit Burma since 1948. He calls for a suspension of all European Union sanctions against Burma, except for an embargo on arms sales. Suu Kyi backs the call. Following a meeting of EU foreign ministers in April, most of the sanctions are suspended for a year. Australia and Canada also ease sanctions.

At the end of May, Suu Kyi travels to Thailand to address the World Economic Forum on East Asia. It is the first time she has left Burma in 24 years. Many other trips overseas follow.

In June, during a 17-day tour of Europe, she delivers her long-delayed lecture for the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo. She is presented Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award, the organisation's highest honour, while in Dublin, Ireland, and addresses both houses of the British Parliament while in the United Kingdom.

On a visit to the United States in September she receives the Congressional Gold Medal bestowed on her in 2008 and meets privately with US President Barack Obama. In October 2013 while on a trip to Europe she collects the Sakharov Prize awarded to her in 1990.

Suu Kyi is feted wherever she travels, by world leaders and ordinary people alike.

On 19 November 2012 US President Barack Obama visits Burma. He is the first serving US president to visit the country. President Obama meets with Suu Kyi and Burmese President Thein Sein and gives a televised speech at the University of Rangoon. To coincide with President Obama's visit, 66 prisoners, most of who are political detainees, are released.

2013 - The NLD holds its first-ever party congress at the start of March. Suu Kyi is reelected party leader and the executive committee is expanded from seven members to 15. The party aims to bring in new faces and ideas in preparation for Burma's 2015 general election.

European Union sanctions on Burma are permanently lifted in April, except for the arms embargo. A ban on the granting of US visas to most Burmese military and government officials is lifted by the US at the start of May.

In June Suu Kyi admits she wants to become Burma's president, telling a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Naypyidaw, "There are those who say that I shouldn't say that I want to run for the presidency, but if I pretended that I don't want to be, I wouldn't be honest. And I want to be honest to my people."

However, the Burmese constitution bars candidates from running for the top post if, like Suu Kyi, their children are foreign nationals, and would need to be amended before Suu Kyi could stand. The constitution also requires the president to have had military experience, effectively excluding all women from the job.

Suu Kyi turns up her rhetoric on the need to amend the constitution. "If the constitution is not amended, the 2015 election cannot be free or fair. It might be free but it cannot be fair," she says in September. "An election held with an unfair constitution can never be fair. The unfair election will have consequences."

In October she says that "unless this constitution is amended ... we will have to take it that the present administration is not interested in taking reform further forward.

"It's gone as far as it is going to go without amendments to the constitution and we are still very, very far away from a genuine democratic form of government."

By the end of the year less than 50 political prisoners remain in custody.

2014 - Burmese President Thein Sein indicates he is prepared to accept amendments to the constitution. Speaking on radio on 2 January he says, "a healthy constitution must be amended from time to time to address the national, economic and social needs of our society."

"I would not want restrictions imposed on the right of any citizen to become the leader of the country," he says. "At the same time, we will need to have all necessary measures in place in order to defend our national interests and sovereignty."

However, Thein Sein also sounds a warning, saying that if demands exceed what the system can accommodate the result may be political deadlock. "If this happens, we could lose all the political freedom we have achieved so far," he says. "I would therefore like to urge all of you to handle such situation with care and wisdom."

At the end of January a parliamentary committee set up in July 2013 to review the constitution recommends that no change be made to the articles preventing Suu Kyi from running for president. The committee, which is controlled by the government, also recommends that 25% of the seats in parliament continue to be reserved for the military and that changes to the constitution continue to require at least a 75% majority vote by parliamentarians. Under this arrangement the military, with its 25% block of seats, has the power to veto any constitutional change.

On 5 November, a week before world and regional leaders are due to visit Burma for the ASEAN summit, Suu Kyi tells reporters that reform has stalled in Burma. "We do think there have been times when the United States Government has been overly optimistic about the reform process," she says.

"If they really study the situation in this country they would know that this reform process started stalling early last year. In fact, I would like to challenge those who talk so much about the reform process, what significant reform steps have been taken within the last 24 months?"

2015 - Suu Kyi comes under criticism for her unwillingness to speak out against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in western Burma. The Rohingya number about 1.1 million. They are descended from immigrants from Bangladesh but despite having lived in Burma for centuries are denied citizenship and other basic rights. Since 2012 they have been subjected to sustained and violent anti-Muslim attacks by the country's Buddhist majority, causing up to 140,000 to seek refuge in impoverished camps or flee Burma completely.

Despite the urgings of fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jose Ramos-Horta and the Dalai Lama, Suu Kyi refuses to advocate on the Rohingya's behalf. She says she is silent because whichever side she takes "there will be more blood."

"If I speak up for human rights they (the Rohingya) will only suffer," she says.

In June, Suu Kyi makes her first visit to China, meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

On her return the Burmese parliament confirms there will be no changes to the constitution and Suu Kyi will remain ineligible to run for the presidency. The military retains a veto over constitutional change, remains in control of the defence, home affairs and border affairs ministries, and has the right to place the country under martial law at any time.

A general election is announced for 8 November. Suu Kyi says that should the NLD win she would rule above the president.

The election proceeds without major incident. As the votes are tallied it becomes clear that the NLD has won in a landslide, taking an absolute majority of seats in both houses of parliament and placing it in a position where it can govern in its own right. The absolute majority also allows the NLD to hand-pick a new president.

Both the military and the incumbent government accept the result. In a surprise turn, Than Shwe, the former head of the junta, holds a secret meeting with Suu Kyi. According to reports of the meeting Than Shwe tells Suu Kyi he supports her "with all my efforts" and "she will become the future leader of the country."

2016 - The new parliament opens on 1 February. Of the 390 NLD members now sitting in the upper and lower houses, 110 are former political prisoners. Htin Kyaw is elected president on 15 March. Htin Kyaw is a senior member of the NLD and a trusted friend of Suu Kyi. He is the country's first civilian president in more than 50 years.

The NLD officially takes power on 1 April. Suu Kyi is minister of foreign affairs and minister in the president's office. She remains leader of the NLD. She also takes the position of "state counsellor", a specially created role that gives her general oversight of the government and potentially more power than the president.

Suu Kyi's first act as state counsellor is to begin the release of the country's remaining political prisoners, reported to number over 500.

Her first major international trip is to China, visiting in August to meet again with President Xi Jinping and progress the rebuilding of relations between the two countries.

At the end of August, Suu Kyi opens a peace conference aimed at resolving the intractable ethnic conflicts that have plagued Burma since independence in 1948. Over 750 delegates from the government, the military, ethnic groups and political parties meet in Naypyidaw. The five-day conference is seen as a starting point for ongoing negotiations.

In a separate development, a commission is set up to look for solutions to religious conflict between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State. The commission is headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Suu Kyi takes her first trip to the US as de facto leader of the government in September. During this trip President Barack Obama announces the US would lift most remaining sanctions against Burma and restore trade benefits. In an address to the UN General Assembly Suu Kyi asks for international understanding as her government tries to deal with the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims, saying the government was "standing firm against the forces of prejudice and intolerance."

Nevertheless, the situation for the Rohingya continues to deteriorate over the coming months and international pressure on Suu Kyi continues to build.

An attack on police guard posts near the border with Bangladesh by suspected Muslim militants in October unleashes a new round of violence against the Rohingya. There are reports of extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests, destruction of dwellings, widespread rape, and thousands of displacements. The military presence in the region is bolstered, an anti-insurgency operation is launched, independent observers are denied access and aid deliveries are suspended. As the death toll mounts, thousands of Rohingya attempt to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi remains largely silent, commenting only to ask the international community to "help us to maintain peace and stability, and to make progress in building better relations between the two communities, instead of always drumming up cause for bigger fires of resentment."

A 13-member commission to investigate the violence is established by Burma's president at the start of December. The commission's interim report finds there is insufficient evidence to support allegations of genocide, human rights abuses or religious persecution of Rohingya Muslims.

Later in December, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warns the Government of Burma that its "short-sighted, counterproductive, even callous" approach to handling the crisis in Rakhine State could have grave long-term repercussions for the country and the region. High Commissioner Zeid urges the government to allow independent monitors access to the worst affected areas.

"If the authorities have nothing to hide, then why is there such reluctance to grant us access?" he asks. "Given the continued failure to grant us access, we can only fear the worst."

At the end of December a letter signed by 11 Nobel Peace Prize laureates and 12 others urges the UN Security Council to act to stop the persecution of the Rohingyas. Calling the situation in Burma "a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity," the letter criticises Suu Kyi for her failure to "take any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas."

2017 - In January the UN reports that at least 65,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape the military crackdown.


Suu Kyi is a symbol of the Burmese people's struggle for freedom. Her poise, humility and integrity stands in stark contrast to secrecy and self-interest of the military junta that imprisoned her for so many years and, for so many years, robbed the Burmese of the huge potential their country holds.

For so many years it seemed that the junta would never bend or fall. The developments in the country since November 2010 have been unexpected, rapid and even somewhat shocking, and there is still an unsettling sense that they are too good to be true. One can only hope that they are not and that there will be no reversal of fortune for Suu Kyi and the Burmese people during the struggles that lie ahead.