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UN: Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi May Go Free Soon


A senior United Nations official says Burmese authorities appear to be preparing for the release of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari says Burma's ruling military junta indicated that Aung San Suu Kyi could be freed from house arrest within days.

Gambari has just returned from a visit to Rangoon, where he was allowed a 45 minute meeting with the pro-democracy leader. He was the first foreigner to see her in more than two years.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Gambari said he had asked senior General Tan Shwe to release Aung San Suu Kyi when her current term of detention ends May 27.

"Yes. We did ask, and not only about her but other detained persons for political reasons, and this was directly, because we are not sure whether the messages get to the highest authorities, but it was delivered," he said. "I cannot give you a sense whether this would be done or not, but certainly we hope so, and it's not far, the 27th is this Saturday."

Gambari would not say what response he received. But he said Burma's ruling generals appear to want to open a new chapter in relations with the international community. He said he was encouraged that Burma's chief of police, Major General Khin Yi, had publicly stated that he no longer considers Burma's democracy leader a threat to stability.

"As for the chief of police, I can only guess it could be one of two things," he added. "Part of that statement said, she is losing support in country anyway, but also to try to denigrate her importance, but it could also be a way of preparing the ground if they were to decide to release her."

Gambari said that despite spending more than 10 of the past 17 years in detention, Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be in good health.

"She appeared quite well," he noted. "Somebody challenged me, are you a medical doctor, Mr. Gambari. I am not a medical doctor, but I did ask her, are you well, can I say you are well? Not being a doctor, and she said 'yes' to both."

The United States earlier welcomed news of the meeting between the U.N. official and the Burmese opposition leader. But a State Department official cautioned that the development does not reflect progress in the country's democratic reforms.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has asked that Gambari brief the Security Council on his visit. Bolton has been pushing to include Burma on the Council agenda as a threat to peace and security.

The ruling military junta took power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy movement. In 1990, the junta refused to hand over power after Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in general elections.