Parties barred from “tarnishing” the ruling military ahead of November election.
|Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 20 years in detention because of her popularity [AFP]|
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader, is set to be released just days after Myanmar’s upcoming election, government officials have said.
Suu Kyi, who has become the icon of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and remains the military government’s most well-known opponent, is to be released on November 13, reported the AFP news agency, citing two anonymous official sources.
Myanmar is to hold elections on November 7, but neither Suu Kyi nor her National League for Democracy party (NLD) will be taking part, having boycotted the vote over rules banning serving prisoners, including the Nobel peace laureate, from running.
Suu Kyi, who won the country’s last poll overwhelmingly in 1990, has spent most of the last 20 years in detention in what is seen as a consequence of her popularity.
Other hurdles to opposition candidates include a fee of $500 per candidate, the equivalent of several months’ wages for most people.
The National Democratic Force (NDF), a breakaway opposition party created by former NLD members, is among those planning to contest the vote, a decision that put it at odds with Suu Kyi.
Opponents have dismissed the vote as a sham aimed at hiding military power behind a civilian facade. A UN ministerial group has said that the election will not be credible unless opposition detainees are released.
Nyan Win, the foreign minister, rejected international criticism on Tuesday, insisting that the junta is committed to a “free and fair” vote.
Uncertainty over whether the military regime will indeed release the 65-year-old, known reverently among Myanmar’s people as “The Lady”, will remain until the moment she appears in public.
Over the years, Suu Kyi has repeatedly been released for brief spells and then reincacerated.
A Myanmar analyst based in Thailand said any release would come with conditions and that Suu Kyi “won’t be free to go out”.
“It’s a military dictatorship. No matter what the legal background of the issue – if they don’t want to release her, she won’t be released,” Aung Naing Oo said.
“I’ll believe it when I see it”.
Suu Kyi’s current spell of detention stems from her imprisonment in May last year – just days before a previous period of house arrest came to an end – due to a bizarre incident in which an American swam to her lakeside home.
She was initially given three years in jail and hard labour but was returned to her crumbling family home in August 2009 after her sentence was commuted to one and a half years’ house arrest by Than Shwe, the junta leader.
Crackdown on dissent
Coinciding with the promise of release for Suu Kyi, the government this week moved to quell what it views as attempts to undermine the vote.
Thein Sein, the country’s prime minister, warned citizens to “protect” Myanmar’s image from those attempting to disrupt next month’s elections in comments reported by state media on Wednesday.
A bombing the following day led to a more direct accusation from the government against a broad range of opposition groups.
It blamed the bombing, along with two other recent attempted attacks, on “insurgents, destructive elements and political opportunists who are trying to ramp up instigation and destructive acts with the aim of disrupting the upcoming multiparty democracy election,” according to state media.
The bomb blast damaged a local municipal office in Bago late on Wednesday, the Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported. There were no injuries.
Thursday also saw the Myanmar courts deal long prison sentences to a group of 12 people for bombings and other activities aimed at undermining the vote.
A special court handed those accused sentences ranging from five to 23 years, a defence lawyer, Myint Thaung, said.
In a separate trial, a monk belonging to the ethnic Mon minority, identified as Okkantha, was charged with violating the Electronic Act, Printing and Publishing law and disrupting peace and tranquility, Khin Htay Kywe, his lawyer, said.