Myanmar extends Suu Kyi's detention

This, despite UN chief's direct appeal to the junta to free the Nobel laureate.

india Updated: May 27, 2006 11:37 IST

Myanmar's military rulers on Saturday extended the house arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi despite an international outcry demanding her freedom.

"It has been extended," an official said, declining to confirm for how long.

The Nobel peace laureate's detention was last extended by six months in November, but in the last week hopes swelled among her supporters that she might be released as her arrest came under review this weekend.

The extension came as her National League for Democracy was marking the 16th anniversary of its landslide victory in 1990 elections, which the junta has never recognised.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made a direct appeal on Friday to junta leader General Than Shwe, urging him to free Aung San Suu Kyi.

Just hours after his appeal, a police officer made a 10-minute visit to her home.

Lwin, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy, said the police had delivered a message, but he could not say what it contained.

The UN chief declined to answer reporters' questions about the extension as he left Bangkok at the end of a five-nation Asian tour, but Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said he was disappointed.

"I was hoping the release would come today. It was a good opportunity for the international community to work with Myanmar," he said.

Officials in Myanmar would not say how long her house arrest had been extended, but sources close to the military and analysts said the junta could have been negotiating to loosen the restrictions on her.

"I think they tried to get her to accept conditional release but she refused," one source close to the military said.

Military analyst Win Min said in Bangkok that the junta may have loosened their restrictions just by allowing her to meet with visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari one week ago.

"The Gambari visit was to reduce international pressure, that's it," he said. "The best they can offer is more access when the UN visits."

Just four weeks ago, few in her National League for Democracy party would have dared thought that the nation's military rulers would even consider releasing her.

The military had cracked down on the party, intimidating members into resigning and threatening to outlaw the NLD over alleged "terrorist" links.

But last week the outlook changed, when the junta unexpectedly allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to meet with Gambari, her first contact with the international community in more than two years.

After the talks, Gambari said there appeared to be a willingness by the Myamnar junta to "turn a new page in relations with the international community."

Following his visit, the United States issued a new demand for her release, joined by Southeast Asian nations like Thailand and Malaysia.

Her latest period of detention began nearly three years ago, after her convoy was ambushed as she made a political tour in northern Myanmar.

The junta says four people were killed in the attack, but the NLD put the toll at nearly 100.

After the ambush, Aung San Suu Kyi was held in secret -- initially at the notorious Insein prison oustide Yangon -- until being transferred to her home amid vocal international protests.

Decades of economic mismanagement by the military have left Myanmar one of the world's poorest countries.

It has one of the highest rates of HIV and tuberculosis infection in Asia, and the World Food Program estimates that 40 percent of children here are malnourished.

First Published: May 27, 2006 08:36 IST