AS the genocidal horrors in Myanmar unfold, I am kicking myself for having risked my skin to go see then sainted leader, Aung San Sun Kyi.
This event occurred in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1996 when Suu Kyi was the revered democratic opposition leader resisting the nation's brutal military regime. The western media loved her, as it always does third world female politicians fighting dictatorships and thugs.
The saintly Suu Kyi was even given a Nobel Prize by Sweden's always giddy liberals.
To get to Suu Kyi's compound in suburban Rangoon, I rented a car and a terrific driver named Mr Alexander, and we wove our way through many police checkpoints, risking arrest at each one. Somehow we managed to get to her compound to hear the famous lady speak. She looked very lovely and fragile.
Like my fellow journalists, I felt great sympathy for her. Unlike them, I wondered how, if she ever came to power, this frail, bird-like creature could hold together wild and crazy Burma, a turbulent nation of 43 million that is a stew of scores of angry ethnic groups and religions – a sort of Asian Yugoslavia. As I feared back then, she was proven unfit for this heavy task.
Once rich Burma was bankrupted and dirt poor after many years of dictatorial rule by eccentric army general Ne Win who terrorised his people and practised necromancy, other black arts and socialism.
General Win used the large Burmese Army to battle the nation's many ethnic secessionists: Shan, Karen, Mon, Wa, Chinese. He persecuted the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state.
Ne Win was finally kicked upstairs by younger army generals. They continued the brutal dictatorship and repression of Rakhine's Muslims, 4% of the population, who were ethnically linked to the Bengalis of neighbouring Bangladesh.
In fact, Burma has been oppressing and dispossessing the Rakhine Muslims for decades – it's just that no one outside Burma paid any attention.
Burma's majority Buddhists, 87% of the population, and their powerful monkish clergy, wanted a state without Muslims.
The western powers imposed heavy economic sanctions on Burma that left it isolated and stuck in a time warp of the 1940's.
Finally, Burma's ruling military junta wised up and put Suu Kyi in de facto power, backed by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This was Clinton's biggest mistake before the murder of Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
The western critics of Burma fell silent and the punishing western economic boycott ended. Foreign cash flowed in. Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi made nice speeches and won accolades abroad. But the military still ruled.
Burma's dour, unsmiling generals remained in charge of everything important, including the lucrative timber and emerald trade, while Suu Kyi was left to make nice speeches about democracy. She, apparently, agreed to this Faustian deal.
Meanwhile, Burma's army struck the Muslim Rohingya of Rakhine. In a long-planned offensive, their villages were burned to the ground and their women gang raped by Burmese soldiers.
Ten thousand Muslims are reported killed, and 710,000 fled into neighbouring Bangladesh where they now subsist in primitive camps.
UN observers have reported this was “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing – the 2017 version”.
Rakhine's Muslims where among the most wretched people on earth even before ethnic terrorism began. No one had helped them except UN aid agencies.
Suu Kyi has done next to nothing to protect them or stop the genocide. She simply can't admit that she is a powerless figurehead run by the generals. The saintly lady has been revealed to be a sock puppet.
China, which has great strategic interest in Burma as a gateway to the Indian Ocean from its western region, is a long-time backer of the Burmese military junta. It can thwart any action thanks to its seat on the UN Security – the same way the US protects Israel at the UN from censure and war crimes charges.
The nation that could have helped the Rohingyas, Saudi Arabia, self-proclaimed Defender of Islam, was too busy killing Yemeni Muslims and destroying Syria to take any notice.
The Koran enjoins Muslims to help their co-religionists in distress or peril, but the obscenely rich Saudis ignored pleas to help the oppressed Rohingyas, just as they shunned pleas of help from the Muslims of Bosnia whose women were being raped and murdered.
China, which is busy trying to crush the life and religion out of its own Uighur Muslims, is encouraging ally Burma. The generals in Rangoon know they have carte blanche to commit more crimes.
Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org