Myanmar tight-lipped on Suu Kyi release
YANGON, Myanmar -- The military government of Myanmar is remaining tight-lipped over the possible release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, despite mounting speculation that she could soon be freed.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has not been seen in public since September 2000 when she was confined to her Yangon home after trying to leave the capital by train in defiance of a government travel ban.
However, hopes were raised that her release might be on the cards following a visit to the country last week by United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail, during which he held talks with senior generals and Aung San Suu Kyi herself.
Although he has made little comment on the outcome of the meetings, Razali said Tuesday he expected "something big" to happen in the coming days.
"I think something big will happen, something notable," he told reporters in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
On Wednesday state-run media maintained its characteristic silence on issues related to Aung San Suu Kyi and the opposition, instead giving prominence to May Day messages from military leader General Than Shwe.
Meanwhile, reports from Yangon have quoted witnesses saying they had seen unusual activity outside Aung San Suu Kyi's lakeside villa on Tuesday.
They said municipal workers had been seen cleaning the street and filling in potholes around her home on Yangon's University Avenue, which has been closed to the public for several months.
Razali's visit was seen as a last ditch attempt to kickstart talks between the military government and the opposition which he first brokered almost two years ago.
His comments in Malaysia followed statements from the Myanmar government after his departure from the country hinting that some kind of breakthrough may be imminent.
On Saturday, Myanmar Labor Minister Tin Win told reporters that the government would make a major announcement "in a few days."
Asked if this was to announce the outcome of talk with the U.N. envoy he said only: "Just wait and see."
Another sign that some major development may be imminent was the decision by the Myanmar government this week to issue a spate of rarely-given journalist visas -- including several for reporters who have previously been barred from the country.
However, if Aung San Suu Kyi is indeed to be freed, observers say the key question will be the degree of political activity she will be allowed to undertake.
On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said it would welcome her release but warned that it should be unconditional and would not automatically result in a lifting of sanctions against the military regime.
"It is important that the release be unconditional and that Aung San Suu Kyi be afforded full freedom of movement and association," a spokesman said.
"We hope the reports out of Rangoon indicate the Burmese regime is serious about political reform and national reconciliation."
Aung San Suu Kyi has been under various forms of house arrest for most of the past 12 years.
Although the government has refused to call her current detention 'house arrest', since September 2000 she has not been allowed to leave her home, her phone has been cut, and visitors have been strictly vetted by government officials.
In 1990 her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in national elections.
However, the military -- which has ruled Myanmar since 1962 -- refused to recognize the result, instead rounding up and jailing hundreds of NLD members.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International estimates that as many as 1,500 NLD members remain in Myanmar's jails, never having been convicted of a crime.
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