Myanmar May Release Pro-Democracy Leader Suu Kyi

Myanmar might free Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi but has not set any timeframe for her release, Thailand's foreign minister said Thursday after talks with top officials in the military-ruled country.

Myanmar's leaders have frequently made similar comments concerning the pro-democracy leader but Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said he was encouraged by a Wednesday meeting with his Myanmar counterpart, Nyan Win.

"I told him frankly that I am disappointed about the extension of the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi," Kantathi said in an interview with Thailand's Business Radio station.

Suu Kyi, 60, Myanmar's opposition leader, has spent nearly 11 of the last 17 years in detention, mostly under house arrest. The government extended Suu Kyi's house arrest in May for another year, ignoring worldwide calls for her freedom.

Quoting the Myanmar minister, Kantathi said: "He replied, 'I understand how Thailand feels, and we are looking for a way to release her but I cannot tell when she can be released."'

Nyan Win said that Myanmar's leaders were "'thinking about how to go ahead with this matter'," Kantathi said.


The Thai foreign minister called the comments "a good sign" and a departure from Myanmar's official line in the past that Suu Kyi's detention was an internal affair.

Kantathi traveled to Myanmar on Wednesday as part of a high-level delegation led by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on a hastily arranged trip to meet leaders of the military junta, who are under mounting pressure to embrace democratic reforms and release Suu Kyi.

Thaksin, who met with Myanmar's senior junta leader Gen. Than Shwe, told reporters he conveyed the concerns of Southeast Asian countries and the international community and "got a positive response." He did not elaborate.

When asked Wednesday if he and Than Shwe had discussed Suu Kyi, Thaksin responded, "I don't know."

Myanmar did not report Thaksin's visit on state-run television and radio.

Thaksin's trip — his first to Myanmar since December 2004 — came less than a week after Asian and Western nations criticized Myanmar for its failure to fulfill promised democratic reforms at the ASEAN Regional Forum.

U.S. President George W. Bush approved a renewal of sanctions against Myanmar on Tuesday, extending for a year import restrictions against the country's generals.

Instead of embracing democracy and freeing pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi from detention, the White House said in a statement, "the country slides deeper into self-imposed isolation and misrule."

U.S. lawmakers have also pressed the United Nations to consider a resolution calling for Myanmar to release Suu Kyi; she is among some 1,100 political prisoners.

Myanmar's military rulers seized power in 1988 after violently crushing a pro-democracy movement. The junta called elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power when the vote was won by the opposition party led by Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel peace prize in 1991.