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Burma May Possibly Release Aung San Suu Kyi from House Arrest - 2002-04-30

Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, may soon be released from house arrest. Her release would mark a significant step in international efforts to push Burma toward political reconciliation.

Burma's military government appears to be preparing to release opposition Aung San Suu Kyi from 18 months of house arrest.

Rangoon-based diplomats expect the government to announce several measures, including the release of other political prisoners.

The moves follow the latest visit by United Nations special envoy - Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail.

Comments Tuesday by Mr. Razali, as well as by Burmese government ministers, point to a significant gesture by the government. Rangoon has been under pressure from neighboring countries, as well as Europe and the United States to move forward on political reforms.

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi has been a prime demand of the international community. She has been confined to her home since late 2000, and has been detained for most of the past decade.

The military government and Aung San Suu Kyi have held secretive talks since late 2000, brokered by Mr. Razali. The talks aim to edge the country toward political reform, after 40 years of military control.

But editor of the opposition Irrawaddy newspaper, Aung Zaw, said any release will be conditional. He said there is more work to be done.

"We shouldn't be too excited with the release - what about the other political prisoners, what about the problems the country has been facing for years? So I think that's the real issue we have to keep focused [on]," he said.

The director of the Network for Democratic Development, Naing Aung, said he fears the intentions of the government. The government is known as the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC.

"But what we don't want is SPDC taking and riding this process and taking this process as a hostage to take more time. We want to avoid that kind of a process," he said.

Naing Aung said the government may use gestures merely to hold onto power, and fend off the international community's push for reform.