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Opposition Release Signals Major Breakthrough in Burma Political Deadlock - 2002-05-06

Thousands of supporters mobbed Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, after her release from house arrest earlier Monday. Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom is a major breakthrough in more than a decade-long political deadlock in Burma.

Thousands of supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi gathered at the National League for Democracy party headquarters in Rangoon, chanting "Long Live Aung San Suu Kyi' as the NLD party leader arrived in a white Toyota sedan.

Just moments earlier Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD party leader, had driven out from her University Avenue compound where she has been held under detention since September 2000. NLD party members linked arms, others using loudspeakers to clear the way for Aung San Suu Kyi's arrival.

A military government spokesman said Aung San Suu Kyi is free to carry out all activities, including those associated with the NLD.

Ms. Suu Kyi's release marks a major step in breaking a 12-year political deadlock in Burma and comes after 18 months of secretive talks supported by United Nations special envoy, Razali Ismail.

The current military government has been in power since 1988, with Burma under military rule since 1962.

Naing Aung, a director of think tank Network for Democracy and former Burma student activist, said Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom must be part of wider political reforms in Burma. "Her release should be based on the grounds of a positive step towards national reconciliation and political development in Burma. The release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest should be taken as the positive step toward national reconciliation by the SPDC."

Former Thai foreign minister, Surin Pitsuwan, said the NLD leader's release reflected the efforts by the international community, including the Association of South East Asian Nations ASEAN, in which Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a member. "I think it's a triumph of the force of democracy, moderation and perseverance on the part of all ASEAN countries and the proponents of democracy around the world," he said. "We do hope that it will be the beginning of a new chapter of democracy and openness in Myanmar and it's going to generate a lot of euphoria and enthusiasm in the region."

But other observers remain cautious. Somchai Homla-or, secretary general of Bangkok-based human rights organization, Forum Asia, said there are still many obstacles in the path to political reform and moves towards democracy in Burma.

The military government says, while it is committed to bring democracy to Burma, the process needs to be slow to avoid collapse of the multi-ethnic country.