Myanmar opposition leader returns home

Saturday, September 27, 2003

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since May, was discharged from the hospital Friday after undergoing surgery and returned to her home. Her doctor said she will be held under house arrest.

The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been held in an unknown location since her arrest, disrupting a reconciliation process between Myanmar's military junta and the opposition and increasing the country's international isolation.

The 58-year old opposition leader had what was described as a major three-hour operation a week ago. In its first comment on Suu Kyi since she was hospitalized, the government said the surgery was for a gynecological condition but did not give details.

Suu Kyi left the Asia Royal Cardiac and Medical Center at 8:15 p.m. with her doctor in a two-car entourage, witnesses said. She arrived 15 minutes later at her lakeside residence, neighbors said.

The government confirmed her release in a statement.

"She will continue to rest at home under the supervision of her doctors while the government stands ready to provide and assist her with her medical and humanitarian needs," the statement said.

Earlier Friday, Suu Kyi's personal physical, Tin Myo Win, told diplomats and reporters outside the hospital that Suu Kyi would be held under house arrest after her return home.

"She is technically still under custody," he said. "I have to tell (her) supporters that she will see them only when she is released totally ... Technically, she is under house arrest." Tin Myo Win has declined to give any details on the surgery.

The government statement did not say whether she would be held under any special restrictions. Security near Suu Kyi's residence was tightened Friday night, with groups of plainclothes security personnel checking vehicles and people on the avenue that runs past her house.

Myanmar has remained defiant in the face of intense international pressure to free Suu Kyi, who is being detained for the third time since 1989, when she was put under house arrest until 1995.

She was detained after she and her followers were caught in a violent clash with a pro-government mob in northern Myanmar, also known as Burma. Afterward, the junta cracked down on her party, halting a reconciliation process brokered in October 2000 by Razali Ismail, the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar.

The detention further isolated Myanmar's ruling junta, already shunned by many Western nations because of its poor human rights record, as world leaders appealed for Suu Kyi's release.

Britain on Friday criticized her continued detention.

"The military regime flagrantly continues to disregard the Burmese people's demands for democracy and human rights," Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien said. "Sadly, this development marks no more than a return to the situation in 1989, when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was first placed under house arrest."

The junta has said she will be freed but has refused to specify when.

"Anybody who wishes to see her once she is home should make arrangements through the authorities," Tin Myo Win said, reading from a written statement.

Asked whether Suu Kyi would be allowed visitors, Tin Myo Win said: "You have to test" the authorities.

Dozens of people, including members of her National League for Democracy party and diplomats, congregated outside the hospital during the past week to offer support.

Tin Myo Win said there was "an understanding" before Suu Kyi's operation that she would be allowed to return home following the procedure, and he thanked the authorities for their cooperation. He did not elaborate.

Suu Kyi was first put under house arrest from 1989 to 1995, detained again in late 2000 and freed in May 2002 amid hopes that a political settlement was imminent.

Razali is scheduled to visit Myanmar on Tuesday to seek Suu Kyi's release and discuss reviving reconciliation efforts.

Myanmar's military seized power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy uprising. It held elections in 1990, but refused to recognize the results after Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won.

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