Earlier in the week the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), of which Myanmar is a member, took the unusual step of calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's release.

Asean has a long-standing policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs and usually shies away from any comments that could be taken as criticism.


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"We have made these calls repeatedly, and Myanmar has found it difficult to respond," said Imron Cotan, the head of the Indonesian delegation at a meeting of senior Asean diplomats on Tuesday.


However, observers say there is little indication that the detained opposition leader will be freed when her term expires.


Instead, most expect the government of Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - to extend her detention for another year, as it has done annually for the past three years.




At a ceremony launching the US senate's Women's Caucus on Burma on Wednesday, Bush said the senators would be writing to the secretary-genera  of the United Nations urging him to step up pressure on Myanmar.


Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention 
for 11 of the past 17 years [EPA]
In a rare intervention in foreign policy matters, the US first lady also urged China to "stand with us" in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's release.


China, which has close military and economic ties with the military government, has said it will not get involved in Myanmar's internal affairs and has vetoed past United Nations resolutions condemning it.


Speaking alongside Bush, Democrat senator Dianne Feinstein said the mission of the newly established senate caucus was to "to shine a light on one of the most critical human rights situations in the world today".


She said the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi reflected the plight of all the people in Myanmar.


"The situation in Burma is not just about one woman," she said. "It's also about the treatment of a people who live under the fist of repression."




Myanmar's military rulers have shown no 
indication of bowing to pressure [REUTERS]
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 11 of the past 17 years either in prison or under house arrest.


Her current spell in detention began in May 2003 after she and other members of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were attacked by what human rights groups say was a government orchestrated mob.


In recent days Myanmar authorities have arrested several activists who have held prayer vigils for her release, as well as others who have protested over the country's economic conditions.


NLD officials say at least 60 activists have been arrested in the past week for holding prayers calling for the 61-year-old opposition leader to be freed.