Myanmar's military junta on Saturday night freed Tin Oo, the 84-year-old deputy leader of the country's main opposition party, after keeping him under house detention for seven years.
Myanmar police arrived at Tin Oo's compound in Yangon at 8.30 p.m. (1330 GMT), and ten minutes later announced his release. "I was expecting my release today. I've been waiting for the authorities since this morning," Tin Oo said, speaking to journalists shortly after his release.
Tin Oo is a founder and acting vice-chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party that won the 1990 general election, but has been denied power for the past 20 years by Myanmar's ruling military regime.
The NLD is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house detention and last May was sentenced to another 18 months of confinement, enough to limit her role in a general election planned this year.
Myanmar's junta has promised to stage an election this year, although many analysts doubt the polls will be free or fair. The 2008 constitution, pushed through by the military, assures the army a controlling role over any elected government by allowing it to dominate the Senate and, thus, the legislature.
"I don't want to talk about the election until I have consulted the NLD executive committee," Tin Oo said. He added that he would report to NLD headquartres in Yangon on Monday.
Authorities arrested Tin Oo in May 2003 on charges of disturbing public order after pro-government militias attacked the convoy carrying him and Suu Kyi near Depayin, in Upper Myanmar.
The maximum length of imprisonment for such charges was reached Saturday, according to the Myanmar penal code.
"U (Mr) Tin Oo has paid dearly for his courageous opposition to military rule," Human Rights Watch's Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement issued Friday.
Tin Oo's release comes on the eve of the arrival of UN Special Rapporteur on human rights issues in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana.
Ojea Quintana said in Geneva that he hopes to meet with Suu Kyi and other political leaders during his third mission to the country, scheduled to last from Monday to Friday.
"It would be important for me to meet with political party leaders in the context of this year's landmark elections," he said in Geneva.
There are at least 2,100 political prisoners in jail in Myanmar, deemed a pariah state among Western democracies.