Myanmar frees Suu Kyi deputy
Deputy leader of opposition NLD is released after seven years in detention.
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2010 05:31 GMT
Myanmar's rulers have steadfastly refused to free Aung San Suu Kyi from detention [AFP]

Myanmar's military government has released the deputy leader of the country's pro-democracy party from nearly seven years in detention.

The release of Tin Oo, 82, who helped found the National League for Democracy (NLD) with still-detained party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, comes before a visit by a UN envoy to evaluate Myanmar's progress on human rights.

Speaking after his release, Tin Oo said: "I will continue to work for democracy."

Wearing the peach-coloured traditional jacket of the league, Tin Oo said he was "very hopeful" Suu Kyi would also soon be released.

He said he would ask the authorities to allow him to visit Suu Kyi, and thanked the UN, EU and others for pressing for his release.

The deputy chief had spent nearly seven years in prison and under house arrest. The government renewed his detention on an annual basis following his arrest in 2003.

UN plea

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general welcomed Tin Oo's release and said he hoped it would promote "substantive dialogue" between the NLD and the government.

He also called for the lifting of restrictions on Suu Kyi "without further delay" as well as the release of other political prisoners.

Human rights groups say the government still holds some 2,100 political prisoners.

"The fact that there still [so many] political prisoners in Myanmar and if the elections are to be credible, they need to be able to participate along with all representative groups in the elections," Andrew Heynes, the British ambassador, said after Tin Oo's release.

"The release of Tin Oo is very welcome, but we should not attach any political significance to the release," Mark Farmaner, director of the rights group Burma [Myanmar] Campaign UK, said.

"Burmese democracy activists are regularly released when the generals want to score points with the international community, and are then arrested again later," he said.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special envoy to Myanmar, is due to arrive on Monday.

'Unfair constitution'

Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years. Her house arrest was extended in August by an additional 18 months, which would prevent her from taking part in the first national elections in 20 years. The government says the vote will be held in 2010.

Suu Kyi's party won the last elections in 1990 by a landslide, but the military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, refused to give up power and has constantly obstructed her party's operations over the past two decades.

Suu Kyi's party has not yet decided whether to take part in the upcoming elections. The party says the new constitution of 2008 is unfair and will perpetuate military rule, a claim backed by international rights groups.

The constitution guarantees that 25 per cent of parliamentary seats will go to the military. It also has a clause that would effectively bar Suu Kyi from holding office.

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