Appeal for Suu Kyi Release Rejected

The highest court in military-ruled Burma dismissed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's latest bid for freedom Friday, turning down an appeal to end 14 years of house arrest, her lawyer said.

The Supreme Court's decision had been expected since legal rulings in Burma rarely favor opposition activists.

Defense lawyer Nyan Win told reporters that he would launch one final "special appeal" before the court after determining why the earlier appeal had been rejected. "The court order did not mention any reasons," he said.

"Although the decision comes as no surprise, it is deeply disappointing. We continue to believe that (Suu Kyi) should be released immediately along with the other 2,000 and more other prisoners of conscience," said British Ambassador Andrew Heyn, who attended the court session along with diplomats from Australia, France and the United States.

Suu Kyi's lawyers appealed to the court last November after a lower court a month earlier upheld a decision to sentence her to 18 months of house arrest. She was convicted last August of violating the terms of her previous detention by briefly sheltering an American who swam to her lakeside home.

The 64-year-old democracy icon was initially sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor in a trial that drew global condemnation, but that sentence was immediately commuted to 18 months of house arrest by junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won elections in 1990 by a landslide, but the military, which has ruled Burma since 1962, refused to cede power and has constantly obstructed her party's operations over the past two decades.

The junta has announced it would hold elections some time this year under a constitution which would allow the military to maintain substantial powers. Suu Kyi's party has not yet announced whether it would contest the elections.

The court ruling comes nearly two weeks after the junta released Tin Oo, the 82-year-old deputy leader of Suu Kyi's party, after nearly seven years in detention, and a week after a U.N. human rights envoy left the country, expressing disappointment that he was not allowed to meet the opposition leader.

Burma, also known as Burma, has been widely criticized for its continued violation of human rights, including atrocities committed by its military against ethnic minority groups. Human rights groups says the junta holds 2,100 political prisoners.

Soon after his release Tin Oo said he was very hopeful that Suu Kyi would be released soon, noting that in 1995 he was released from an earlier stint in prison not long before Suu Kyi herself was freed.

During a meeting with her lawyers Thursday, Suu Kyi jokingly asked them if she had been behaving well, as junta chief Than Shwe had said she could receive amnesty if she serves her time according to the prescribed regulations.

"Than Shwe already made the verdict for (Suu Kyi) and no judge will have the nerve to change it," said Aung Din, executive director of the U.S.-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, a lobby group.

"The judiciary system in Burma is just a part of the regime's oppressive mechanism," he said. "The only way to make the release of (Suu Kyi) and all political prisoners in Burma is to keep putting maximum pressure on Than Shwe and his cronies until they feel the heat."