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UN Secretary-General Appeals for Release of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on Burma's military government to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. Mr. Annan issued the call in Thailand on the last stop of a five-nation Asian tour.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made the appeal Friday, one day before the pro-democracy leader's detention order was due to expire.

Mr. Annan said the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the opposition National League for Democracy, would help mend political divisions in Burma. "I believe her release will facilitate national dialogue, and allow the National League for Democracy to participate in that dialogue," he said.

The Burmese military has governed for more than four decades. The National League for Democracy won national elections in 1990, but was never allowed to govern.

Mr. Annan's appeal came less than a week after Mr. Annan's deputy, Under Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, met with Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon. It was her first meeting with a foreigner in more than two years.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 10 of the past 16 years under house arrest.

Shortly after her latest detention began three years ago, the Burmese government announced a seven-step road map leading to civilian democracy.

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

Mr. Annan addressed his appeal directly to the head of the junta, General Than Shwe, saying national dialogue is needed that includes Aung San Suu Kyi. "For the democratic process and reconciliation process to be truly successful, it has to be inclusive,” he said, “And, [Aung San Suu Kyi] has a role to play. And I'm relying on you, General Than Shwe, to do the right thing."

Earlier this week, Burma's police chief, Major General Khin Yi, told reporters in Malaysia that, if Aung San Suu Kyi were to be released, it would have little effect on the country's political stability.