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Burma Extends Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi by One Year


Burma has extended the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a further year, despite international pressure for her release. The decision comes on the anniversary of her National League for Democracy's victory in 1990 elections - a result the military government has refused to recognize.

National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's term under house arrest was extended for a further 12 months Saturday, dashing hopes her release from a three-year-long detention was imminent.

The announcement by Burmese officials came Saturday, the same day her current extension order expired. The Nobel laureate has spent 10 of the past 17 years under arrest.

Earlier Saturday, police armed with batons stepped up security near her University Avenue compound, setting up barbed wire barricades and closing the street to traffic.

Hopes for Aung San Suu Kyi's release were raised last week, after a top U.N. official, Ibrahim Gambari, became the first foreigner in two years allowed to meet her. Gambari also held talks with the head of the ruling junta, senior general Than Shwe.

Naing Aung, secretary general of the Forum for Democracy in Burma, says the detention dashed the promises raised by the U.N. visit.

"It's a kind of disgrace, and we are very disappointed; it shattered the possible progress after Mr. Gambari's visit," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had also made a personal appeal Friday to Than Shwe to free the opposition leader, and allow her party to participate in dialogue.

But Debbie Stothard, spokesperson with the rights group, the Alternative ASEAN Network, said the junta's decision was no surprise.

"It is not surprising that they refused to release Aung San Suu Kyi," she said. "The military regime is still very afraid of the broad support that she commands in the country. Releasing Aung San Suu Kyi today would have been seen as a great triumph for the democracy movement."

Leaders of the National League for Democracy, or NLD, who are meeting in Rangoon to mark the anniversary of the party's 1990 election victory Saturday, said the extension order was a setback to national reconciliation.

Burma's ruling military has always refused to hand over power to the NLD, despite the opposition's election success.

Carl Thayer, a defense analyst with the University of New South Wales, says Aung San Suu Kyi's popularity is a chief concern for the junta.

"[It is better] From their perspective to keep her under house arrest than to risk losing control to a certain extent - they just have to put her back under house arrest," he said.

The military, he says, remains determined to stay in power and ensure internal stability with little concern about international pressures toward political reform.

Shortly after Aung San Suu Kyi's latest detention began three years ago, the Burmese government announced a seven-step road map to democracy.

The junta has taken the first step by convening a national convention to draft a constitution. But critics say the government is merely trying to legitimize the military's hold on power.

On Saturday, two of Burma's Southeast Asian neighbors expressed disappointment at the decision to extend Aung San Suu Kyi's detention. The Malaysian and Thai foreign ministers said they had been hoping for her release.

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