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Burma Frees Two Senior Opposition Leaders - 2004-04-13


Burma's military government has released two senior opposition leaders after nearly one year of house arrest. But the chairman of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains restricted to her home.

An official of the National League for Democracy says party chairman Aung Shwe and party secretary U Lwin were told that restrictions on their movements had been lifted.

The two were among the top party officials detained during a crack down on the NLD last June that followed a clash between party members and pro-government supporters in northern Burma. Scores of party members were detained and party offices around the country were closed.

Five other senior party officials were released late last year, but Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the chairman of the party and a Nobel laureate, remains under guard at her home in Rangoon.

Last week, the Burmese military government formally invited Aung Shwe and U Lwin to attend a national convention aimed at drafting a constitution.

The government says it will reconvene the convention next month as part of a plan announced last August to bring national reconciliation and democracy to Burma.

The first constitutional convention was suspended eight-years ago after NLD delegates walked out saying the meeting was being manipulated by the government.

Burma has been under military rule almost since independence. The military junta organized elections in 1990 following popular demonstrations, but refused to hand over power when the NLD won by a large margin.

Economic sanctions subsequently imposed by western governments have hurt the Burmese economy. The sanctions were tightened after the clashes last May, which Western diplomats said were instigated by supporters of the military regime. Burma's Southeast Asian neighbors have adopted a policy of engagement with the junta, saying the sanctions only hurt the Burmese people. They are to hold a meeting in Bangkok later this month aimed at encouraging the reconciliation process.

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