Burmese military hints at freeing peace prize winner

AUNG SAN SUU KYI, the Nobel Prize winner detained by the Burmese military government since July 1989, may be freed in July, a senior military leader has indicated. In an interview in Rangoon with Japanese journalists, Lieutenant- General Khin Nyunt, the influential first secretary of the military regime, said the government would not seek to change the law to prolong Ms Suu Kyi's arrest beyond her current sentence of five years.

Asked whether this meant that Ms Suu Kyi, 48, would definitely be released in July, General Khin Nyunt said: 'I cannot answer the question more precisely, because my answer would be misleading, but we will deal with it by the existing law without making another law.'

For the junta, which is trying to shed its international-pariah status, releasing Ms Suu Kyi would be a calculated gamble. It would improve the country's international image and facilitate much-needed economic aid and World Bank lending. But it would also risk re-igniting the anti-military democratic agitation that led to the bloody coup of 1988 and Ms Suu Kyi's arrest in the first place. 'It is a very difficult question, and is exercising a lot of thought in the government,' said a diplomat in Rangoon. 'But if Aung San Suu Kyi is released, it would be hard for any government to stop resuming aid. They may be thinking it is a risk worth taking.'

Ms Suu Kyi, who is married to a British academic and has two children living in Oxford, became the leader of a nation-wide pro-democracy movement which swept through Burma in 1988. But after the military shot dead hundreds of protesters and began to reassert its control over the country, Ms Suu Kyi was put under house arrest. She lives in her house in central Rangoon and is denied any contact with the outside world apart from infrequent visits by family members.

But, isolated and silenced as she is, she remains the military regime's greatest liability. She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1991, and most governments have indicated they will not consider economic aid to Rangoon until she is released.

It is significant that General Khin Nyunt, the former intelligence chief who is regarded as one of the country's most powerful military leaders, would refer to Ms Suu Kyi's possible release in an interview with Japanese journalists. Rangoon is desperate for economic assistance from Tokyo, which has continued to provide aid pledged before the 1988 coup, but has not offered any substantial new aid packages. And Japanese companies, restrained by their government, are watching impatiently as rivals from Korea and Taiwan gain a head start in developing their business in the resource-rich country.

The Burmese government has been making concerted attempts to improve its image recently, including opening peace talks with a number of ethnic-minority insurgents and developing closer relations with its neighbours in South-east Asia. Even tourists are now being given 28-day visas, a big change from the old one-week permits. 'But they know that releasing Aung San Suu Kyi is the big one,' the diplomat said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk