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Bangkok Post: Suu Kyi defends 'crony' cash

Suu Kyi defends 'crony' cash (click to view article)

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday defended her party's controversial decision to accept donations from businessmen close to the former military junta for its education fund.

"If it's legal money, why not [accept it] as it's for a good cause?" is Aung San Suu Kyi's response to her critics.

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 emerges from almost half a century of military rule.

"Let them donate if they donate for good things," the opposition leader and lower house lawmaker told AFP 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 [accept it] as it's for a good cause?"

The decision by her 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 the 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 500 million kyat (17 million baht) from the event, making a profit of 320 million kyat after costs. Tay Za's companies donated a combined 70 million kyat.

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

The NLD says the money will be used to help provide free education for 10,000 students.

"The money was donated for the education network," said party spokesman and NLD lawmaker Ohn Kyaing. "Who will suffer if we ask them (the cronies) not to donate? Children must continue their education," he said.

"People can criticise. That's democracy."

Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past two decades under house arrest, is focused on her new political role following her election last year to a parliament dominated by the military and its political allies.

With the NLD setting its sights on the next general election in 2015, the veteran activist has been careful not to antagonise voters over sensitive issues such as the plight of the country's stateless Rohingya Muslims.

Many Burmese consider the Rohingya to be illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and view them with hostility. Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed many rights campaigners for not speaking out more vocally in support of the group, as well as other minorities such as the Kachin in the conflict-riven far north.

Decades of military rule starved the NLD of funds, and its small ramshackle offices in Rangoon stand in stark contrast to the opulent headquarters of the ruling army-backed Union Solidarity and Democracy Party (USDP) in Naypyidaw.

"We have survived the past two decades with only our spirit of belief. It's important to continue with this spirit," said NLD lawmaker Min Thu. "Without using our own money, we couldn't have survived more than 20 years."

Formed by Thein Sein and other former generals who shed their military uniforms to contest a 2010 election marred by widespread complaints of vote fraud, the USDP inherited considerable financial resources and millions of members from a former powerful pro-junta organisation, the USDA.