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Myanmar releases deputy leader of the Burmese opposition, U Tin Oo

U Tin Oo

U Tin Oo

The New York Times reports:

U Tin Oo, deputy leader of the Burmese opposition party led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was freed from nearly seven years of prison and house arrest over the weekend and immediately declared that he would resume his pro-democracy activities.The release of Mr. Tin Oo, 82, came at the conclusion of his term of detention Saturday and in advance of a visit to Myanmar by a U.N. envoy.

A highly decorated general and former defense minister, Mr. Tin Oo founded the National League for Democracy in 1988 together with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.

After serving an earlier three-year term in prison, Mr. Tin Oo was arrested together with her in May 2003 when their motorcade was attacked by a pro-government mob in what some supporters say was an assassination attempt.

That ended a brief period of freedom for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, now 64, who was first detained in 1989 and has spent more than 14 years since under house arrest. Her detention was extended for 18 months last August when she was convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest after an American adventurer swam across a lake and entered her home uninvited.

Speaking to reporters at his home in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, Mr. Tin Oo said: “They told me not to take actions which can disturb the building of the state. But I will continue my duty as vice chairman of the party.”

He said he planned to visit the great golden Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Yangon, and then to go to his party office.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations said he welcomed Mr. Tin Oo’s release and urged the release of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and 2,100 other political prisoners. His special envoy to Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is to arrive in Myanmar on Monday on one of the periodic visits of U.N. envoys.

Ivan Lewis, minister of state at the British Foreign Office for Asia, the Middle East, counterterrorism and North America, said in London that the release was good news but added, “It is essential that the regime now grant Aung San Suu Kyi’s request to meet with the leadership of the National League for Democracy so they can function as a political party.”

Mr. Tin Oo said Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi might soon be released, as she was in 2002 following his own previous release. But most analysts doubt that she will be set free ahead of a national election scheduled for this year.

In a speech on Friday, the leader of Myanmar’s military junta, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, repeated his confirmation that the election would be held but did not name a date.

The election is seen by analysts as a way for the military to legitimize its rule of nearly five decades behind the facade of a civilian government. Key leadership positions will be reserved for military officers, and 25 percent of parliamentary seats are to be held by the military.

Their party won the last election, in 1990, in a landslide but was prevented by the military from taking office. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer, U Nyan Win, said last week that she had told him it was too early for the party to decide whether to take part in the election this year.

Now if they would only release Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.