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Burma Allows Opposition to Reopen Headquarters - 2004-04-17

Burma's pro-democracy National League for Democracy has been allowed to reopen its Rangoon headquarters nearly a year after the government closed it down. However, the two leading members of the party are still under detention.

The reopening of the party's office comes one month before a scheduled national convention at which the military government intends to write a new constitution - a part of its so-called "road map to democracy."

Aung Zaw, who publishes the Burmese-language newspaper Irawaddy from northern Thailand, says the reopening of the NLD headquarters in Rangoon is a positive step. "NLD people believe that this is a step forward that may pave the way for the release of the two other leaders, who are Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo," he said.

The National League for Democracy, or NLD, has been invited to attend the constitutional convention, but says it cannot take part unless all its leaders are set free.

That includes Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and party Vice Chairman Tin Oo, both of whom have been in detention since last May 30. Two other high-ranking party officials were released from house arrest on Tuesday. The NLD leadership was detained after a group including Aung San Suu Kyi was attacked by a pro-government mob in northern Burma last year. She was jailed at the time, and later moved to house arrest at her Rangoon residence after undergoing surgery. Agence France Presse reported that around 400 NLD supporters marched peacefully towards Aung San Suu Kyi's house on Saturday, calling for her release, but were turned away by riot police.

Aung Zaw, the publisher, says that even if all NLD leaders are released and allowed to take part in the constitutional convention, critics fear the military will not be willing to release its hold on power. "People believe that the government has no political will to compromise with the opposition. They [the government] want to prolong their rule," he said.

The country has been ruled continuously by the military since 1962. Although the NLD won general elections in 1990 by a landslide, it was never allowed to take power. An attempt in 1996 to draft a new constitution ended when the NLD walked out, accusing the government of manipulating the process in order to stay in power.