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Burmese Government Announces Plans to Free Aung San Suu Kyi - 2004-04-03

Burma's foreign minister says the military government will free democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest before next month's constitutional convention and will invite her political party to take part.

Foreign Minister Win Aung told the Japanese Television station NHK Saturday, that he could not give a specific date for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, except to say her release would come before the convention's scheduled opening date of May 17.

Win Aung made the announcement in Bangkok, where he met with his Thai counterpart, Surakiart Sathirathai.

The Burmese official said Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democracy, or NLD, will be invited to take part in the constitutional convention, which has been called as part of the government's so-called "road map to democracy."

The democracy activist's release has been demanded by the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Burma's fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Thai foreign ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow said the Thai government welcomed the decision to release her.

"It's something that we attach importance to and we [see it] as a sign of progress," he said.

But Sunai Phasuk, of Human Rights Watch in Bangkok, says the release of Aung San Suu Kyi by the State Peace and Development Council, as the government is officially known, will mean little unless real democratic reform takes place.

"That will make it look good but my question [is] whether that will make any difference in terms of real substance and I don't think [the] SPDC is going to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to do anything after this release," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party won the 1990 general elections by a landslide, but were never allowed to take power.

The government suspended its last constitutional convention in 1996 after the NLD walked out, accusing the military of manipulating the process in order to stay in power.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1991, has spent much of the time since under house arrest. She has been under detention continuously since April 30 of last year, after she and members of her party were attacked by government supporters in northern Burma.