Suu Kyi defends donations from businessmen close to junta

January 19, 2013 - 5:19:52 am

NAYPYIDAW: Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday defended her party’s controversial decision to accept donations from businessmen close to the former junta for its education fund.

The issue has highlighted the Nobel Peace laureate’s dilemma of how closely to work with members of the former junta and their associates as the country also known as Burma emerges from almost half a century of military rule.

“Let them donate if they donate for good things,” Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and lower house lawmaker, said  in the capital Naypyidaw when asked about the controversy.

“I don’t understand why we cannot accept it. If it’s illegal money, we won’t accept it. If it’s legal money, why not as it’s for a good cause?”

The decision by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to take money from “cronies” of the generals who ruled the country with an iron fist for decades has raised eyebrows given her long stand against the regime.

The donors at a party fundraising concert in December included Air Bagan and Asia Green Development Bank, both owned by prominent tycoon Tay Za, once described by the US Treasury as “a notorious regime henchman and arms dealer”.

The NLD says it received a total of 500m kyat ($580,000) from the event, making a profit of 320m kyat after costs. Tay Za’s companies donated a combined 70m kyat.

“Tay Za and the cronies may have wanted to have some kind of political insurance, and as long as they are not trying to put political pressure on the NLD, there is no problem,” said Trevor Wilson, a former Australian ambassador to Myanmar and visiting fellow at The Australian National University.

The family of another crony Kyaw Win, head of the media giant Skynet, paid nearly $50,000 for a jumper knitted by Suu Kyi at a charity auction last month.