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Burma Releases Activist from Jail; Tin Oo Now Under House Arrest - 2004-02-15

Burma's military government has released a senior member of the opposition National League for Democracy from jail and placed him under house arrest.

Tin Oo, the vice chairman of Burma's National League for Democracy, was freed on Saturday after spending almost nine months at an isolated prison in northwestern Burma.

Family members told journalists the 77-year-old democracy activist was was under house arrest even though he was out of prison. They said he is "healthy and fine," although he lost weight during his imprisonment in Kale, 700 kilometers north of Rangoon.

Tin Oo was arrested in May last year together with dozens of fellow party members, including party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after an NLD convoy touring northern Burma was attacked by a pro-government mob.

The government has since released more than one hundred of those arrested, partly in response to international pressure, although Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD chairman Aung Shwe and party secretary U Lwin are all still detained in one manner or another.

Debbie Stothard, a spokeswoman for the human rights group Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, described the detention of Tin Oo as cruel. She said that despite his partial release, there were few signs of real political reform in Burma.

"Essentially the top four leaders of the NLD are still under detention," she said. "They may be detained in the comfort of their own homes but the reality is, unless the regime is willing to release them unconditionally immediately and engage in substantive political dialogue, the situation has not shifted."

But the government says it is pressing ahead with political reform in accordance with a seven-point program towards democratic elections announced by Prime Minister Khin Nyunt last August. The plans include drafting a new constitution and eventual elections for a new parliament.

The government says it intends to hold a national convention this year that will include representatives from all of Burma's ethnic minorities and political parties, including the NLD.

The NLD won general elections in May 1990 with a landslide victory, but the military prevented the party from assuming power. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy work, has been repeatedly jailed or put under house arrest since then.