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By JIM GOMEZ,Associated Press – Myanmar’s military-ruled government may release pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi soon so she can play a role in next year’s general elections, according to a senior Myanmar diplomat.
The remarks by Min Lwin _ rare for a Myanmar government official on an overseas visit _ were in line with vague comments in recent years by the junta that it intends to free Suu Kyi soon. But officials have given no time frame and have made no real moves to release her despite hinting they would.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, and not been able to speak publicly since she was last taken into detention in May 2003. A court recently sentenced the 64-year-old to an additional 18 months of house arrest for briefly sheltering an uninvited American in a trial that drew global condemnation.
That would prevent her from participating in next year’s elections _ the first in two decades _ unless she is granted a special release.
“There is a plan to release her soon … so she can organize her party,” Min Lwin, a director-general in the Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press at the Manila airport before boarding a flight to Singapore en route to Yangon. He refused to elaborate, and it was not clear if he meant that Suu Kyi would be allowed to campaign.
There is also no indication that the government would allow Suu Kyi to run in the election. Myanmar’s constitution includes provisions that bar Suu Kyi from holding office and ensure the military a controlling stake in government.
Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, has not yet decided whether to take part in the polls, which it says would be held under a constitution established last year by undemocratic means.
Min Lwin said the proposal to free Suu Kyi was not influenced by the recent change in U.S. policy under President Barack Obama, who is seeking to engage Myanmar, also known as Burma. The Bush administration had shunned any direct talks with the reclusive Southeast Asian nation.
Although Myanmar welcomes the new American policy of “pragmatic engagement,” Min Lwin said he did not expect any major changes in the near future, mainly because U.S. sanctions are still in force.
Min Lwin was in Manila to attend a two-day meeting of fellow diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United States.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs Scot Marciel held separate talks last week with Myanmar’s ruling generals and Suu Kyi in the highest-ranking visit by American officials to Myanmar in 14 years.
Obama will meet ASEAN leaders on Nov. 15, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Singapore, bringing him in rare contact with Myanmar’s prime minister, Gen. Thein Sein.
The Myanmar junta chief, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, typically shuns official meetings outside Myanmar.
Officials have not said if Obama will meet privately with Thein Sein. The last U.S. president to meet a Myanmar head of state was Lyndon B. Johnson, who held talks with then-Prime Minister Ne Win in September 1966 during a state visit to Washington, according to Richard Mei, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Myanmar.
Despite their new approach to Myanmar, U.S. officials have said that tough sanctions against the junta will remain in place until talks with its generals result in long-demanded democratic reforms.
Seven ASEAN member states _ Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam _ belong to APEC, which includes the U.S. and other Western and South American nations. The three ASEAN members not in APEC are Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.