The recent disappearance of Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, is the saddest news for a long time.
It was hard enough when the human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit vanished in Bangkok in 2004 when investigating allegations of torture by police officers.
Similarly shocking was the 2007 abduction of Jonas Burgos, an advocate for landless peasants, in a shopping mall in the Quezon City district of Manila.
Then, just four months ago, Sombath Somphone, the Lao educator and rights activist, was stopped by the police in Vientiane and later dragged off in a pick-up truck. None of them have been seen again.
Now comes the mysterious disappearance of Suu Kyi, whose friends and close associates suspect was engineered by the military leaders and their mega-rich cronies.
If so, they have been unusually cunning and replaced her with a look-alike double, as has been done elsewhere in the past for political figures as varied as Winston Churchill, Henry Kissinger and Saddam Hussein.
Let us try to recap how this dastardly act occurred.
In 1988, when she returned to Myanmar, Suu Kyi became a fearless advocate for a secular, multiparty democracy, free from state-sanctioned corruption, drug dealing and ethnic cleansing.
She rebuked the military dictators for misgoverning her resource-rich nation and impoverishing its people – and in the process she won the Nobel Peace Prize, while enduring house arrest most of the time.
Then, in 2010, she was released from detention and permitted a degree of political latitude that was unprecedented. She campaigned around the country, won a seat in parliament and even travelled overseas to collect her Nobel prize and be feted by world leaders in Washington, London and Paris.
Then, suddenly, she vanished – or at least the real Suu Kyi that we all know vanished. In her place another lady appeared, assuming the same name and having a similar appearance.
This new creature, a Faustian figure, like a distaff Lee Kuan Yew or Hun Sen, promptly jumped into bed with the generals and their well-heeled sidekicks.
“It’s genuine, I’m fond of the army,” she gushed on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs show – while picking Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles and Green Green Grass of Home by Tom Jones among her songs.
Was this the real Suu Kyi – praising army officers who, let us remember, recruited child soldiers, pillaged and raped ethnic minorities and murdered hundreds of civilian protesters in 1988 and 2007?
No, it must be an impostor, because the woman even lauded the cronies, taking money from them and letting Zaw Zaw, head of the still-sanctioned Max Myanmar Company, build a high pink wall around her lakeside villa.
She gleefully pocketed cash donations from other mafiosos like Tay Za and Kyaw Win, whose ill-gotten millions, along with their Ferraris and Rolls-Royces, came from military contracts and other illicit activities.
Furthermore, this Suu Kyi decoy endorsed the Letpadaung copper mine, co-owned by a Chinese military conglomerate and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, headed by her new chum, General Khin Zaw Oo.
This long controversial project has displaced hundreds of farmers and turned a bucolic rural area into a kind of hellish lunar landscape that would challenge Hieronymous Bosch.
Even after security forces fired white phosphorus munitions on protesting farmers, the Suu Kyi mimic reiterated that she backed the mine and she chastised the peasants for demonstrating against it without permits.
Final proof of this decoy charade came when Muslims in Meiktila, Yangon and Rakhine state were slaughtered by gangs of right-wing Buddhist thugs from the majority Bamar community – Suu Kyi’s heartland vote-bank.
Did The Lady stand up and rage against these pogroms? She did not.
It was so unlike the real Suu Kyi that the only explanation possible is that it is a diabolic military-hatched scheme whereby she has been abducted and replaced by a sycophantic stooge.
Let us hope someone frees her – and soon.