Kathleen Parker

Most Americans are by now familiar with news and images of tangerine-clad monks protesting in the streets, but they may know little about Aung San Suu Kyi. A Nobel Prize winner and icon of Burma's democratic movement, she has been under house arrest for nearly 12 of the last 18 years.

Laura Bush wants her released and she wants the military regime to step aside. Well, somebody had to say it.

Wednesday, Mrs. Bush had an article in The Wall Street Journal decrying the treatment of Buddhist monks rounded up and imprisoned under inhumane conditions. The "Saffron Revolution," which was sparked by a 500 percent hike in regime-controlled gas prices, has "unleashed 19 years of pent-up national anger," Mrs. Bush wrote.

It would seem that it also unleashed seven years of the first lady's pent-up emotions.

Burma, and especially the plight of Suu Kyi, got Mrs. Bush's attention in 2002 when a Bush cousin told her about the imprisoned woman. Since then, Mrs. Bush has followed the story and last year began urging the United Nations to take action.

When the first lady speaks, apparently not just her husband listens. Tuesday, she received a call from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging her to continue her efforts. He also promised that he would send the U.N.'s special envoy back to the region as soon as possible and would encourage neighboring countries to pressure Burmese leaders to shift power to a democratic form of government.

President Bush, meanwhile, has increased economic pressure on Burma, directing the U.S. Treasury Department to freeze assets of 14 senior members of the Burmese junta. Europe also has tightened sanctions.

Hating juntas and demanding freedom for monks and women warriors for democracy may not be the riskiest political move in American history. But Mrs. Bush's voice has hit the right note and telegraphs to those in danger and despair that through her they have the ear of the world's most powerful leader.

A first lady's voice is a terrible thing to waste.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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