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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs  22 October 2010

Myanmar Supreme Court to consider Suu Kyi appeal

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The Malaysian Supreme Court has agreed to consider opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's appeal against her house arrest, due to end days after controversial elections next month, her lawyer said on Thursday. The detention of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has kept her out for the country's first polls in 20 years, which have been dismissed by critics as a charade aimed at putting a civilian cloak over military rule.

Suu Kyi's last-ditch "special appeal" will be heard by a panel of three judges in the capital Naypyidaw. The date of the hearing has not yet been announced.

The democracy icon's current term of detention is due to end on November 13, although some fear the ruling generals may find an excuse to extend it.

Suu Kyi's lawyers say the current period of detention started with her imprisonment on May 14 and expect her to be freed next month, but they are continuing their efforts to have the conviction quashed.

"We are always hoping for the best," said one of her lawyers, Khin Htay Kywe.

Suu Kyi lodged the last-ditch appeal in May. She has already had her appeal rejected twice, most recently by the Supreme Court in February. Court verdicts in the army-ruled country rarely favor opposition activists.

Even if Suu Kyi is released, observers believe the pro-democracy leader is unlikely to be allowed full freedom to conduct political activities.

Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past two decades locked up, had her detention extended by 18 months in August last year over a bizarre incident in which an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside home.

Her National League for Democracy won a landslide election victory in 1990 but was never allowed to assume power.

The party has been forcibly abolished for boycotting the November 7 elections, leaving the opposition in disarray. Prisoners are barred from standing as parliamentary candidates.

Western governments, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have repeatedly said that the vote will not be credible unless Suu Kyi and other opponents are freed.

The UN special envoy on rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, cast new doubt on Wednesday regarding the legitimacy of the election.

"Conditions for genuine elections are limited under the current circumstances," he said.

"Numerous political parties have complained of official harassment and intimidation. The potential for these elections to bring meaningful change and improvement to the human rights situation remains uncertain," he added.

The ruling junta strongly rejected the UN report and again denied there are any "prisoners of conscience" in its prisons.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962 and critics say the generals have given their proxy parties an unfair advantage in the November polls.

One quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military whatever the outcome of the vote, which foreign election observers and international media will not be allowed into the country to observe.

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