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Thailand Sets Release of Aung San Suu Kyi as Condition for Constitutional Convention - 2004-03-23

Thailand's Foreign Minister says Burma's military government will need to release Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house detention before holding a planned constitutional convention. Aung San Suu Kyi's participation at the convention is seen as crucial to ensure international support for political reform in Burma.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai told reporters Tuesday that the release of Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was a key factor for the start of Burma's national constitutional convention.

He said the convention can only start if she is released and he expects that to happen.

The convention is a part of a seven step process set down by Burma's Prime Minister, Khin Nyunt, last year setting out a patch for political reform in the military ruled country.

But Mr. Surakiart said the Thai Government was still waiting on an announcement of the date for the national convention before calling a second meeting of a Thai sponsored multi-nation group that is trying to encourage reform.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, has been under detention since last year.

Aung Zaw, editor of the Thailand-based independent newspaper, The Irrawaddy, said the Thai Government appears to be looking for tangible progress in political reform in Burma, especially the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

"I think [this is a] carrot and stick approach by Thailand. They want to encourage [Rangoon] at the same time they want to nudge and to give a warning to Rangoon that time is running out, you have to do something about it," said Aung Zaw.

Human rights issues remain at the forefront of international concerns in Burma, with rights groups estimating there are more than twelve hundred political prisoners still in jail.

The United States, Europe and Japan maintain tough economic and trade sanctions against Burma in a bid to push the government toward political reform.