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Burmese Government Releases 5 NLD Members

Burma's military government has freed five senior members of the opposition National League for Democracy from house arrest. Human rights groups welcome the releases, but want Burma to release all political prisoners.

The five men freed from house arrest are all members of the central committee of the National League for Democracy - NLD. They were detained after a May 30 clash between government and NLD supporters in northern Burma.

The men, in their late 70's and early 80's, were among 35 NLD leaders and supporters the government arrested. Other detainees included party vice chairman, U Tin Oo, and party leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

U Tin Oo, also in his late 70's, still is in prison. Aung San Suu Kyi remains at her home, refusing to accept greater freedom offered by the government until all her jailed colleagues are freed. Telephone lines to her home are cut, and military guards keep visitors away.

Burma's military government arrested more than 150 opposition supporters after the May 30 clash. Human rights groups say the dozens of NLD supporters were killed and injured in the incident.

Reports from Rangoon say the five men were released because the law requires the government to either release them after six months or renew their restrictions for six more months.

Human rights groups say Burma is still holding as many as 1,300 political prisoners.

Debbie Stothardt, a spokeswoman for human rights group, Alternative Southeast Asian Network on Burma, says the releases are welcome. But, she says, it is a "grudging response" by the government to international pressure. "It clearly indicates that international pressure is working and momentum has to be kept up to ensure that all prisoners are released and that a dialogue process [with the opposition] actually takes place," she says.

Burma has come under intense international pressure - including from fellow members of the Association of South East Asian Nations - to free Aung San Suu Kyi. She was held at an undisclosed location until she underwent medical treatment in September. After that, she was moved to her home.

In response to the pressure, Burma's government in August announced a seven-point plan to move toward new elections and democracy. But no timetable has been set for implementing the plan.

The military government still faces calls to set a timetable for reconciling with the opposition and for involving Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD in the process. The NLD won elections in 1990, but was never allowed to take power.