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|14 February 2010
Myanmar: Deputy opposition leader calls for dialogue
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's deputy urged Myanmar's ruling government Sunday to engage in dialogue with the opposition before elections this year, as he took his first steps outside as a free man, reported AFP.
Tin Oo, 83, the vice chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, made the appeal as he offered prayers at Yangon's famed Shwe Dagon pagoda following his release from house arrest late Saturday.
"Because I am a Buddhist I came here to wish for peace for all Myanmar people," he told AFP as he toured the imposing religious monument, accompanied by his wife and around a dozen NLD officials.
"My feeling now is that I wish to find a way through successful dialogue that the whole country can live unitedly and peacefully."
The veteran activist said however that his own release means nothing if Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, 64, and around 2,100 other political prisoners are still detained when the elections take place.
Tin Oo had been held since 2003 when he and Suu Kyi were arrested after a pro-government mob attacked their motorcade during a political tour, killing 70 people.
He was a former army general and defence minister who was forced into retirement in the 1970s after falling foul of the country's military rulers. He was in trouble again in the 1990s because of his involvement with the NLD.
"How can I be glad (that I am free) when there are so many who have been sentenced to life imprisonment? It is not enough to release me alone," Tin Oo said.
"All people will be happy if all things can be discussed and a solution can be reached."
The NLD says it has not yet decided if it will take part in the elections which Myanmar's military government has promised to hold at some point in 2010, amid claims that they are a sham designed to tighten the generals' grip on power.
They will be the first polls since 1990 when Suu Kyi and Tin Oo led the NLD to a landslide victory that the military government refused to recognise. Suu Kyi has spent most of the following two decades in detention.
Tin Oo's release late Saturday came shortly before the United Nations human rights envoy for Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, was due to visit the military-ruled nation on Monday to examine its progress.
Quintana expects to meet the foreign minister during the trip but not reclusive military leader Senior General Than Shwe. He also wants to see Suu Kyi but has not been told if the military government will allow him to.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed Tin Oo's release, saying he hoped the development "will contribute to the advancement of substantive dialogue between the NLD and the government of Myanmar."
British Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis welcomed the news of Tin Oo's release but urged the military government to allow all political groups to take part in the elections and said Suu Kyi should be allowed to meet the NLD leadership.
France said it was an "encouraging signal" while Japan said it "highly values" the release of Tin Oo and urged Myanmar's ruling military government to allow all political groups to take part in the democratisation process.
After years of international isolation and western sanctions, Myanmar has given out mixed signals in the run-up to the polls by freeing some activists but at the same time continuing a crackdown on dissent.
The generals have not yet set a date for the elections and faced global criticism in August last year for extending Suu Kyi's house arrest by 18 months, ruling her out of the polls.
A 2008 constitution effectively bars Suu Kyi from standing and reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the military.
But in recent months there have been signs of rapprochement between Suu Kyi and the military government and reports that she could be freed in November, although there has been no confirmation.
US President Barack Obama's administration has also promoted engagement with Myanmar’s government because sanctions have failed to bear fruit.
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