Thu 30 Sep 2010
Filed under: Elections,Inside Burma
Yangon — Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will be released in November just days after Myanmar’s first election in two decades, officials said Thursday.The Nobel Peace laureate, who has been detained for most of the last twenty years since winning the country’s last poll in 1990, will be freed when her current house arrest expires on November 13, the unnamed sources said.
“November will be an important and busy month for us because of the election and because of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release,” a Myanmar official told AFP, noting the release would come soon after the country’s November 7 vote.
A second Myanmar official, who also declined to be named, confirmed the date, adding “she will be released on that day according to the law.”
Neither Suu Kyi nor her National League for Democracy (NLD) party will participate in the upcoming vote, which opponents have dismissed as a sham aimed at hiding military power behind a civilian facade.
Uncertainty over whether the military regime will indeed release the 65-year-old, known reverently among Myanmar’s people as “The Lady”, will remain until the moment she appears in public.
The junta, humiliated by its crashing defeat in the last election, has prolonged Suu Kyi’s confinement almost continuously ever since.
She has been detained since May 2003 and has only enjoyed fleeting periods of freedom since 1990.
Thailand-based analyst Aung Naing Oo said any release would come with conditions and she “won’t be free to go out”.
“It’s a military dictatorship. No matter what the legal background of the issue — if they don’t want to release her, she won’t be released,” he said. “I’ll believe it when I see it”.
Suu Kyi’s current spell of detention stems from her imprisonment in May last year — just days before a previous period of house arrest came to an end — due to a bizarre incident in which an American swam to her lakeside home.
She was initially given three years in jail and hard labour but was returned to her crumbling family home in August 2009 after her sentence was commuted to one and a half years’ house arrest by junta leader Than Shwe.
Suu Kyi’s lawyer Nyan Win said the period of detention started with her imprisonment on May 14 and authorities would have to release her in November because “there is no law to extend her house arrest”.
“So far we have no plan in advance for her release date. We will do and follow whatever she asks for. We are waiting for that day,” Nyan Win added.
Government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar recently warned an unnamed party — thought to be the NLD — to drop protests against its dissolution, and threatened jail for anyone impeding the upcoming vote.
The party was disbanded after it opted to boycott the election in response to rules barring serving prisoners — like Suu Kyi and other members — from standing.
A UN ministerial group has said that the election will not be credible unless military rulers release Suu Kyi and other opposition detainees.
But on Tuesday Myanmar’s foreign minister Nyan Win rejected international criticism, insisting that the junta is committed to a “free and fair” vote.
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962 and the generals have stacked the cards in their favour for the poll.
A new constitution, which comes into force with the election, ring-fences a quarter of the legislature for the army, while junta-friendly parties are seen as having a major advantage in the contest for the remaining seats.
Opposition parties face formidable hurdles, including a fee of 500 dollars per candidate — the equivalent of several months’ wages for most people.
The National Democratic Force (NDF), a breakaway opposition party created by former NLD members, is among those planning to contest the vote, a decision that put it at odds with Suu Kyi, who favoured a boycott.