Releasing Suu Kyi and Tin Oo: To believe or not to believe?

Maung Oo, a senior official of the ruling military junta, announced last week that Aung San Suu Kyi and her deputy, Tin Oo, would both be released this year. However, party leaders of the National League for Democracy are not hopeful that the military junta will honor their promise.

Maung Oo made the announcement on January 21 to local officials, saying that Tin Oo would be released on February 13 and Daw Suu Kyi would be released in November. Khin Maung Swe, a spokesman for NLD, said in an interview with The Irrawaddy news magazine that Maung Oo’s announcement was not given at an official press conference or press statement and thus carried no weight.

“We welcome the news,” said Win Tin, a renowned pro-democracy leader in Burma. “But this is not politically significant since the elections would already be finished when Aung San Suu Kyi is released,” he said in an interview with The Irrawaddy. If Suu Kyi is released after the 2010 elections, the likelihood of NLD participating in the elections drops. Maung Oo reportedly said that the 2010 elections would be free, fair, and not rigged.

Nyan Win, Suu Kyi’s lawyer and a spokesman for NLD, told the Associated Press that Maung Oo’s statement was “nothing new or extraordinary,” and that “hopes for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s earlier release under the executive order were dashed.”

Maung Oo’s announcement came at a critical time for the junta, with the looming 2010 elections and increasing international pressure on the country over its human rights violations. This announcement could signal that the junta is trying to lessen international pressure or create a distraction from issues such as its crimes against humanity and the arrest of political activists within the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi is currently serving an 18-month term of house arrest, running from May 2009 to November 2010. Tin Oo has been under house arrest since the May 2003 ambush on Suu Kyi and NLD party members by a group of government-backed thugs. According to the terms of his house detention, he is scheduled to be released on February 13. Pro-democracy leaders say that since Maung Oo simply promised that Suu Kyi and Tin Oo would be released in keeping with their sentences and not earlier, the promise has no political significance.

Whether or not, the Burmese military junta will actually honor their promise and release Suu Kyi and her deputy in due time, no one knows. If you know Burma, you already know that the Burmese generals give empty promises all the time, to their own citizens as well as to the international community. It wouldn’t be the first time and it definitely wouldn’t be the last.

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