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Burma's Opposition Believes Aung San Suu Kyi Release Coming Soon - 2004-04-19

A senior opposition official in Burma says pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be freed from house arrest within a few days. Burmese authorities have already allowed her National League for Democracy to re-open its headquarters in Rangoon.

National League for Democracy chairman Aung Shwe says he is hopeful that party leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be released soon.

His remarks follow similar comments Sunday by U.N. special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail, who is mediating between the National League for Democracy and Burma's military leaders.

Senior NLD officials were detained and all party offices were closed after a clash last May between the National League for Democracy and pro-government supporters.

Five members of the party's Senior Executive Committee were released late last year, and Chairman Aung Shwe and spokesman U Lwin were released last week. But Aung San Suu Kyi and vice chairman U Tin Oo remain under house arrest.

Mr. U Lwin told VOA he was not sure about the prospects for their release. "We had expected that she will be also released among us, four of us together, at the Burmese New Year day, but [she] never came out," he said. "So, I am rather reluctant to focus on her release."

The National League for Democracy was allowed to re-open its national headquarters Saturday. Spokesman U Lwin said the leadership is focused on re-organizing party activities.

"We still have many offices to open, especially in Rangoon," he said. "We have the Rangoon branch head office and then township offices, about 36. So, these are still under the restrictions."

The government is preparing to hold a national convention in one month aimed at drafting a constitution and organizing elections.

The government reportedly invited some NLD leaders to attend the convention.

The government says many leaders of 13 former rebel groups have agreed to participate. And it is negotiating with the last major group still at war, the Karen National Union, to end five decades of rebellion and join the convention.

The National League for Democracy says it will not consider attending the convention until all its leaders are released.

The military has ruled Burma virtually since independence in 1948. It held elections in 1990, but refused to accept the NLD's victory. The government subsequently convened a national convention in 1996 to draft a constitution, but that was suspended after the National League for Democracy walked out, accusing the military of manipulating the proceedings.

The government has been under international pressure to allow democracy and release all political prisoners. The European Union on Sunday agreed to allow Burma to attend a meeting between EU and Asian leaders in Vietnam later this year, but only if Aung San Suu Kyi is released and the National League for Democracy is allowed to participate in the convention.