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3 February 2010

Myanmar junta may free opposition leader during polls

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Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi may be freed during the national elections in Myanmar, AFP quoted Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya as saying Tuesday, predicting the polls could be held during the second half of 2010.

"What is the gut feeling? Maybe at the time of the declaration or the holding of the elections," he said, responding to a question on when the opposition leader, whose house arrest sentence had recently been extended until November 2010, could be freed.

"Around that time... maybe a day after or a day before," added Kasit.

A date has still not been announced for the elections, which will be the first since 1990 when the junta refused to recognise the landslide win of the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi.

Kasit believes that "the elections most probably will be in the second half of the year."

He noted that during meetings of a regional bloc known as ASEAN, Myanmar's prime minister had been "giving us the assurance ... that elections will be held this year" and that there will definitely be a "new government."

"He (the prime minister) mentioned about 70 to 80 percent completion of election law and political party law and the completion of the parliamentary site in the new capital and so on, so I predict it will take place in the second half of this year," added Kasit.

The foreign minister also cautioned against sanctions as a way to put pressure on the junta, saying the tactic has "proven to be a failure."

"Why hurt the Myanmar people?" he told journalists in Geneva.

Isolating Myanmar also risks cornering it "into the arms of certain countries," he warned.

"The Indians and the Chinese don't want to have any sanctions vis-a-vis Myanmar. So in that sense you allow a special relationship to happen. Would that be detrimental or not to the whole cooperative effort?" he said.

Rather, Kasit referred to the recent US move to engage in dialogue with the junta, saying that put the ball now in the junta's court.

"The world is waiting for Myanmar at the border, so it's up to Myanmar to respond in a positive manner," he added.

Home Affairs Minister Maung Oo reportedly told a meeting of local officials in central Myanmar last month that the release of 64-year-old Suu Kyi, who has been in detention for 14 of the past 20 years, would come in November.

A decision is expected from Myanmar's top court within few weeks on an appeal against her conviction last August. The conviction related to an incident in which a US man swam to her house and she was sentenced to another 18 months under house arrest.


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