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Southeast Asian Governments Hail Release of Burma Opposition Leader - 2002-05-06

Governments across Southeast Asia are applauding the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi by the military government. Ms. Suu Kyi has re-emerged Monday into public life after 19 months of house arrest.

A spokesman for the Indonesian foreign ministry said the government is pleased to see that the Burma's military worked out a way to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa referred to Burma by the name used by the military regime, Myanmar. "We welcome this development as a forward step to promote reconciliation between the government and the society in Myanmar at large, and therefore it is an important step which we welcome very much," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi is revered by millions of Burmese people. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won the majority of parliamentary seats in Burma's last democratic election in 1990, but was not allowed to govern. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's acting foreign minister and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, released a statement applauding the decision of the Burmese government, and encouraging the international community to re-engage with Burma. He spearheaded efforts of other Nobel Laureates to secure Ms. Suu Kyi's release.

Mr. Ramos-Horta's spokesperson, Caroline O'Brien, said "he rallied up the Nobel Laureates while in Norway in December for the Centenary celebrations of the Nobel Peace prize. And he got them together to write a letter to the Burmese government encouraging them to set their friend free." In the Malaysian capital, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed says the release of Aung San Suu Kyi is a victory for common sense. But he also cautioned that patience was needed and that reforms in Burma will not happen overnight. Also speaking from Kuala Lumpur, Razali Ismail, the U.N. special envoy who helped secure freedom for Ms. Suu Kyi, said he was "delighted" with her release. He had made more than half a dozen trips to Burma to get her released by the Burmese generals.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer echoed the sentiments of other western leaders in calling on the Burmese military to release the remaining political prisoners and open a political dialogue with the opposition.