Pro-democracy leader still under house arrest

Friday, October 3, 2003

YANGON, Myanmar -- A U.N. envoy sent to Myanmar to promote free elections ended his two-day mission Thursday without securing the release of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Razali Ismail said Myanmar's military rulers did not indicate whether Suu Kyi will be included in their so-called "road map" to democracy, a diplomat who attended a private briefing by Razali said on condition of anonymity.

Razali said he had extensive talks with Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt, but received no specific answers about the release of political prisoners or the role of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party in a possible democratic transition.

He also met with Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest and is recuperating from surgery, for about 90 minutes Wednesday and said the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner was well.

Suu Kyi, 58, was detained following a bloody May 30 clash between her supporters and a pro-government mob.

The junta, which says she was detained for her own safety and to avoid unrest, has been unresponsive to widespread international calls for her release.

However, the government last week allowed Suu Kyi to return to her lakeside house while she recovers from what the government said was gynecological surgery.

Suu Kyi is under house arrest for the third time since 1989, when she was held for six years. She was detained again in late 2000 and released in May 2002.

Razali, who helped initiate a dialogue between the junta and Suu Kyi nearly three years ago, said he hopes to return to Myanmar soon but gave no date.

The former Malaysian diplomat was dispatched Tuesday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has urged Myanmar to restore democracy by 2006, when it is set to lead the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Khin Yunt unveiled his seven-point "road map" to democracy after being appointed prime minister in August. It outlined a path to national elections and a new government but provided no details or timeline.

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

Khin Nyunt will attend next week's 10-nation ASEAN summit in Bali, Indonesia, where Suu Kyi's detention is expected to be on the agenda. Group members have been reluctant to criticize Myanmar, but the Philippines on Thursday called Suu Kyi's arrest a setback to efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar.

"We cannot demand, but we would be happy if she's released. That's the sentiment of most of us," Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin said, referring to other Southeast Asian countries.

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