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Asia-pacific

Suu Kyi deputy released after decade under arrest

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-02-13

Tim Oo, the octogenarian deputy leader of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, was released from house arrest Saturday after a prolonged detention in Burma. His release comes ahead of national elections set for some time this year.

AFP - Myanmar's junta released the elderly deputy leader of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party from house arrest Saturday, days before a visit by a UN rights envoy focusing on elections later this year.

Tin Oo, 83, had been held without trial since 2003, when he and Suu Kyi were arrested after a pro-government mob attacked their motorcade during a political tour, but his current period of detention expired on Saturday.

Appearing in good health despite nearly seven years in captivity, Tin Oo immediately vowed to continue his activities as vice chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) despite a warning from Myanmar officials.

"The authorities informed me that they have withdrawn their restriction order," Tin Oo told reporters at his house in Yangon just minutes after police officers visited him to tell him the news.

"They also told me not to take actions which can disturb the building of the state. But I will continue my duty as vice chairman of the party as I am their vice chairman," he said.

"I will work like before by discussing matters with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the chairman of the party," added Tin Oo, dressed in a tunic and traditional longyi, or sarong.

The release is the latest in a series of mixed signals to come from the junta, which has appeared to respond to recent international moves to end its isolation, while at the same time continuing a crackdown on dissent.

Tin Oo, a retired general, and democracy icon Suu Kyi were both detained after a junta-supporting militia launched an attack on her convoy near Depeyin in northern Myanmar in 2003, killing around 70 people.

He was transferred from prison to house arrest in Yangon in February 2004 under an anti-subversion law.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 64, has been in detention for most of the last 20 years since the junta refused to recognise the NLD's landslide victory in Myanmar's last elections, in 1990.

Her current spell under house arrest was extended for 18 months in August following a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her lakeside house. She has appealed against the sentence.

The United Nations human rights envoy for Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is due to start a five-day trip to Myanmar on Monday and expects to meet the foreign minister, but not reclusive junta leader Senior General Than Shwe.

Quintana has said he also wants to see Suu Kyi.

Earlier this week, Suu Kyi told her lawyer and NLD spokesman Nyan Win that it was too early for the party to decide about taking part in this year's elections while freedom of expression and information remain elusive.

The junta has promised the polls in 2010 as part of a so-called roadmap to democracy, but no date has been set and critics say the plans are simply designed to entrench the generals' power.

Than Shwe said the elections would be held "soon" in a speech on Friday in the remote capital Naypyidaw to celebrate Union Day, which marks the 63rd anniversary of the nation's unification.

Analysts predict they will take place in October or November.

Myanmar's 2008 constitution -- pushed through in a referendum days after a cyclone killed 138,000 people -- bans Suu Kyi from holding office, while reserving a quarter of the seats in parliament for the military.

In recent months there have been signs of rapprochement between Suu Kyi and the junta, while the administration of US President Barack Obama has promoted engagement with the regime because sanctions have failed to bear fruit.

But western nations remain harshly critical of Myanmar's failure to free Suu Kyi and an estimated 2,100 other political prisoners kept in the country's harsh jails.

The US government on Wednesday criticised Myanmar for sentencing a US citizen, Kyaw Zaw Lwin, to three years in prison on fraud and forgery charges.

Date created : 2010-02-13

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