Myanmar says Suu Kyi may be freed soon
SINGAPORE (AP) — Myanmar’s military junta has indicated to its Southeast Asian neighbors that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be freed from house arrest in about six months, Singapore’s foreign minister said Sunday.
The hint came as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed “deep disappointment” at the decision by the junta in May to extend Suu Kyi’s detention by another year. It was an unusually frank criticism of Myanmar by the region’s main bloc, whose members usually stick to a policy of not interfering in each other’s affairs.
The comment by Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win to ASEAN is the most optimistic assessment of Suu Kyi’s future by the junta, and the closest to a definite timetable for her release, which has been demanded by the international community.
Nyan Win made the hint during a dinner hosted by Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo for the foreign ministers of the ten member countries of ASEAN.
Yeo said Nyan Win explained that under Myanmar law a political detainee can be held for a maximum of six years. “And he told us that the six-year limit will come up in about half a year’s time,” Yeo said.
Asked if this meant Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, could be released in six months, Yeo said: “That is not an inaccurate inference.”
The military regime extended Suu Kyi’s house arrest May 27 for the sixth straight year. She has now been detained for more than 12 of the last 18 years at her home in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party has denounced the extension as illegal, saying its interpretation of the law is that she could be held only up to five years and not six.
After the dinner meeting, the ASEAN members issued a statement critical of Myanmar.
“The foreign ministers expressed their deep disappointment that … Suu Kyi’s detention has been extended by the Myanmar government,” it said, adding that the ministers repeated a call by their governments for her to be released.
The ministers urged the junta to engage in a “meaningful dialogue with all political groups and work toward a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future.”
ASEAN also urged the junta to give U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari access to senior leaders and to allow meetings with “the widest possible range of contacts including Suu Kyi.”
ASEAN has never made so many demands on Myanmar, and its willingness to do so now is a reflection of its frustration.
Myanmar may free Suu Kyi in six months
By Melanie Lee
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Military-ruled Myanmar could release detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in about half a year, once a maximum detention period of six years has expired, Singapore’s foreign minister said on Sunday.
The Nobel peace laureate’s confinement to her lakeside home in Yangon was extended in May despite international pleas to the generals to end her latest stretch of detention, which began in May 2003.
“Under their law the maximum period of detention for Daw Sang Suu Kyi is one year as approved by the home ministry and five more years as approved by the prime minister as a cabinet decision … meaning a maximum of six years,” Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo quoted Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win as saying.
“And he told us the six-year limit will come up in about half a year,” Yeo said after a dinner with his Southeast Asian counterparts in Singapore.
Asked whether this meant Suu Kyi could be released in six months, he said: “I am just repeating to you what he (Nyan Win) told me and I think that is not an inaccurate inference.”
Suu Kyi has been confined for nearly 13 of the past 19 years, with her telephone line cut and all visitors barred apart from her cook and occasionally her doctor. It was not clear what the expiry of the six-year period Nyan Win referred to would have in practice.
Yeo’s comments come as Southeast Asian nations prepare for a series of meetings this week amid political and economic turmoil that may slow, though not derail, the region’s lofty dream of creating a European Union-style community.
Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will discuss the early ratification of a charter and establishment of a human rights body, whose 10-member nations includes juntas and kingdoms, democracies and communist states.
ASEAN has long been dismissed as a talking shop and the group’s meeting have in the past often been overshadowed by disagreement over how to convince Myanmar’s junta to start democratic reforms.
“We urge Myanmar to take bolder steps toward a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future, and working toward free and fair general elections in 2010,” ASEAN’s foreign ministers said in the draft of a communique to be finalised tomorrow.
The document also calls on the military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962, for the release of all political prisoners and detainees.
(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato; Writing by Jan Dahinten)