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House arrest of Myanmar activist extended

Myanmar's military government Friday extended the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi by another year, a government official said, defying an outpouring of international appeals.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Myanmar's military government Friday extended the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi by another year, a government official said, defying an outpouring of international appeals.

Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has spent 11 of the past 17 years in detention and the order will keep her confined to her residence for a fifth straight year.

Her current one-year detention order was due to expire on Sunday and the extension had been widely expected, although many international groups and world leaders had called for Suu Kyi's freedom. The government normally makes no official announcement of such actions.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N.'s human rights expert for Myanmar, said the decision was "counterproductive in terms of making a transition to democracy."

"They say they are moving ahead, but they continue to hold 1,200 political prisoners, including the main members of the opposition," he told The Associated Press by telephone from Cape Town, South Africa.

The first sign of the extension came when a silver-gray Toyota with tinted windows was seen by neighbors entering Suu Kyi's compound at 3:55 p.m. They were assumed to be government officials because she is allowed no visitors. They stayed for about 10 minutes.

The official confirmed that the car carried officials presenting Suu Kyi with a new detention order. The official asked that neither he nor his agency, which is concerned with security affairs, be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The detention order takes effect when it is read out to the person concerned.

U.S. calls for her release
A State Department spokesman renewed the U.S. call for Suu Kyi's release on Friday, saying Myanmar's pro-democracy community should be permitted to freely exercise its rights.

"And it's past time as well that they engage in a serious process of constitutional reform and involve the opposition and all other legitimate actors in that country," said the spokesman, Tom Casey.

Suu Kyi, the head of Myanmar's National League for Democracy party, has been held continuously since May 30, 2003, when her motorcade was attacked by a pro-junta mob during a political tour of northern Myanmar. The government considers her a threat to public order and she is not allowed any telephone contact with the outside.

The junta took power in 1988 after crushing vast pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar, then known as Burma. It refused to hand over power when, on May 27, 1990, Suu Kyi's party won a general election by a landslide, insisting the country first needed a new constitution. The military has continued to rule while persecuting members of the pro-democracy movement.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, said the organization had not yet been able to confirm the decision.

"However, if the detention is extended despite demands by the international community, this is a very uncivilized action," he said.

Rulers resisting pressure
The military rulers have given no sign they intend to free Suu Kyi.

"We don't see any indication of her release despite demands from world leaders and unprecedented activity within the country," Mya Aye, a prominent member of Myanmar's 88 Generation Students' Group, said before Suu Kyi's extended detention was confirmed.

The 88 Generation group — named after the year in which the military brutally suppressed democracy protests — has in the past year picked up the mantle of opposition activism from Suu Kyi's party, which has become moribund in her absence.

The United Nations, the European Union and the U.S. government regularly call for the release of Suu Kyi — along with more than 1,200 other political prisoners.

On Wednesday, a newly organized group of female U.S. senators sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to press the junta for Suu Kyi's freedom.

In a letter last week to Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the junta's chief, 59 former world leaders urged her release.