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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map