Myanmar May Release Aung San Suu Kyi

Hopes ran high among supporters of detained Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi that she would be released when her house arrest order expires Saturday, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to the ruling junta's chief "to do the right thing."

Police went to the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner's home Friday evening but there was no indication of the reason for the visit.

Officials would have to deliver a new order to hold her past the expiration of her detention. But if she was to be released, they also would be expected to visit to make arrangements.

A police van entered Suu Kyi's residence about 5:15 p.m. and left about 10 minutes later, according to witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they fear official harassment for talking to the media.

Visiting neighboring Thailand, Annan told Myanmar junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe that Suu Kyi's release would "allow the government and the people, not only to build the nation together, but to focus on the essential issue of economic and social development."

"I'm relying on you, Gen. Than Shwe, to do the right thing," he added.

Suu Kyi, who has spent about 10 of the last 17 years in detention, was most recently taken into custody on May 30, 2003, after her motorcade was attacked by a pro-junta mob as she was making a political tour of northern Myanmar.

She has been held at her Yangon residence and not allowed visitors or telephone contact with the outside.

While the military junta has not indicated publicly whether her detention would be extended, a visit last week by U.N. Undersecretary-General Ibrahim Gambari — who became the first foreigner to see Suu Kyi in more than two years — has fueled optimism.

Annan's host, Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon, said Suu Kyi's release would improve Myanmar's relations with the world community.

In Malaysia, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Myanmar's military junta shouldn't fear Suu Kyi's release.

"The government is very strong and very stable," he told reporters. "They are able to maintain security. Why should they be worried? I don't think Aung San Suu Kyi should be a cause for worry to them."

Questioned Thursday in New York about the possibility of Suu Kyi's release, Gambari said the world body was hopeful.

The U.N. made "a recommendation, a request to the authorities to consider lifting the restrictions and also releasing other political detainees as that would give a signal that Myanmar is indeed truly ready to open a new page with the U.N. and international community, but that is to be seen," he said.

The junta took power in 1988 after crushing vast pro-democracy demonstrations in the country formerly known as Burma. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in general elections.

The United States and many Western nations shun the junta because of its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to Suu Kyi's party.

Party members gained further hope from an unusual comment this past week by Myanmar national police chief Maj. Gen. Khin Yi, who said Suu Kyi was unlikely to be able to draw large crowds because support for her had dwindled over the years.

"I can handle every situation. There will not be rallies and riots in Myanmar if Aung San Suu Kyi is released," Khin Yi said on the sidelines of a regional security conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The government's rationale for detaining Suu Kyi has been that she could be a threat to public order.

By coincidence, Saturday is the anniversary of the democracy party's election victory, which the party will mark at its headquarters in Yangon.

Normally, the office would close after the anniversary ceremony, but this time it will stay open into the evening in anticipation of Suu Kyi's possible release, said Ni Ni Win, a party member.

"We will wait for her the whole day tomorrow, hoping that she will join the celebrations," she said.