Hopes have been raised in Burma that democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi could soon be released.
The Nobel Peace laureate has been locked away for 15 of the past 21 years, ever since her opposition party swept the country’s last elections in 1990 and the military refused to cede power.
Her latest term of house arrest ends on November 13, just days after the military junta plans to hold the first elections for 20 years.
There is wide speculation that the junta will release her as an olive branch to the international community after its expected win in elections that many observers say are so rigged as to be meaningless.
But Ms Suu Kyi’s detention is considered a matter of national security and an official said today that any decision to release her would be made at the last- minute by Senior General Than Shwe, the junta chief.
Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy opposition party is boycotting the elections, which it calls unfair and undemocratic.
As a result of not registering for the polls, the party has been dissolved, leaving no group that can effectively challenge the junta-backed party.
Critics call the country’s first elections in two decades a sham and say the military shows no sign of genuinely relinquishing power.
London-based rights group Burma Campaign UK issued a statement to express caution over recent reports about Ms Suu Kyi’s imminent freedom.
Mark Farmaner, the group’s director, said: “We’ll believe it when we see it. Regime officials have said similar things in the past, and Aung San Suu Kyi has remained in detention.”
If Ms Suu Kyi is released, it would be wrong to attach too much political significance to it, Mr Farmaner said.
“She has been released twice before without there being any political change in the country,” he said. “It is more likely that the dictatorship will try to use her release to attempt to persuade the international community to relax pressure on them.”
The international community has long demanded the release of Ms Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 political prisoners.