Hopes high for Suu Kyi's release as house arrest expires

Supporters of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi gathered outside her home as her house arrest officially ended on Saturday amid rumours that the pro-democracy activist may have already rejected the conditions offered for her release.


Hundreds of supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi gathered outside her Rangoon lakeside home for a second day on Saturday as rumours of the Burmese opposition leader’s imminent release reached a fever pitch.

The Nobel Laureate, known as the “Lady of Rangoon” -- or simply “The Lady” -- by her supporters, has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention either in jail or under house arrest in Rangoon.

While her house arrest officially ends on Saturday, the widely respected pro-democracy leader may have already refused the conditional terms set down for a release. 

“According to the latest rumours, she has refused to accept possible conditions” for her freedom, said FRANCE 24’s Nelson Rand, reporting from Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand.


Her international lawyer, Jared Ganzer, cautioned against premature celebrations. “Merely hearing rumours of her release from the regime and that a convoy arrived at her house is not evidence that she will actually be freed,” Ganzer told FRANCE 24 by phone from Washington.

“Having a convoy arrive at her house says nothing about what they may have delivered to her, and frankly they have delivered extensions of her house arrest before,” Ganzer said, adding that his efforts to communicate with his client had been blocked by the ruling junta for the last 48 hours.

Foreign reporters are banned in the south-eastern Asian nation that has been isolated under the "Burmese Way of Socialism," a paranoid national policy that has kept the country hermetically sealed for decades.

Reports of her imminent release on Friday sparked unusual scenes in the country’s largest city, with hundreds of supporters, many of them wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Burmese opposition leader’s iconoclastic face, gathering at the dilapidated former headquarters of her NLD (National League for Democracy) party and her heavily guarded lakeside home.


But Suu Kyi was not expected to accept a conditional release if it excluded her from continuing with her political activities, Rand explained.

“We know that she has said that if the authorities place any restrictions or conditions on her release, that she will refuse to accept them,” said Rand.

The ‘illusion’ of democracy

According to Cyril Payen, another FRANCE 24 reporter in Bangkok, one of Suu Kyi’s sons, who lives in London and has been denied a visa to visit his mother in Burma for over a decade, had finally obtained a visa to enter the country on Thursday.

While senior NLD officials have not confirmed the report that Kim Ares had received a visa, the news nevertheless fuelled speculation that the opposition leader is due to be released.

Reports of her release came days after Burma’s widely discredited elections on Sunday, which saw clashes break out between Burmese troops and a breakaway faction of ethnic Karen rebels near the Thai-Burmese border.

Suu Kyi’s NLD party was officially disbanded because it boycotted Sunday’s poll. But the party remains enormously popular as a social movement inside and outside Burma.

But while there was widespread anticipation and excitement over Suu Kyi’s upcoming release, Burmese democracy advocates said they had little details of the terms of her release.

Speaking to FRANCE 24, Marie Battini from Info Birmanie, a Paris-based Burmese democracy advocacy group, warned that the military junta was using Suu Kyi’s release as “a part of a strategy to give the illusion that they’re making a step toward democracy so that the international community will relax the pressure on them and will recognise the results of Sunday’s elections.”

Speaking to reporters on Friday, her lawyer, Nyan Win, said the Burmese opposition leader would meet with the NLD's central committee, members of the media and the public once she was freed.

A widely popular symbol of Burma’s democratic aspirations, Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, Burma’s founding father.

Her political pedigree as well as her sweeping victory in the 1990 election - the results of which were subsequent annulled - has been a thorn in the military junta’s side for decades.

Suu Kyi's current detention began in May 2003 after her motorcade was set upon by a government-backed mob. The detention period was extended in August 2009 for 18 months, a period which ends on Saturday.


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