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Aung San Suu Kyi to be freed in November

YANGON, January 25 (Reuters): Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be freed when her house arrest ends in November, according to a government minister quoted by witnesses on Monday, but critics said that may be too late for this year’s elections. Home Minister Major General Maung Oo told a Jan. 21 meeting of local officials the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner would be released in November, a month after many observers expect the country to hold its first parliamentary elections in two decades.

The information could not be verified independently but three people who attended the meeting said the comment was made to an audience of several hundred people in Kyaukpadaung, a town about 565 km (350 miles) north of the former capital, Yangon. The three witnesses requested anonymity.

Suu Kyi, detained for 14 of the past 20 years, was sentenced to a further 18 months of detention last August for harbouring an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside home, raising questions over whether the election will be a sham. That incident took place in May 2009, just before an earlier period of house arrest was due to end. Taking into account the three months she spent in a prison guesthouse after the incident, her 18-month sentence would end in November.

The planned election would be the first since 1990, when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party scored a landslide victory that the country’s junta refused to recognise. Maung Oo also said detained NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo would be released on Feb. 13, and that the government would pursue an international-style market economy after holding “free and fair” elections, including loosening restrictions on car imports. Tin Oo, 82, a former defence minister and retired general, has been in prison or under house arrest for more than a decade.

Senior NLD official Khin Maung Swe said it was crucial Suu Kyi and Tin Oo were released before the election. “The most important thing is they must be freed in good time so that they can work for national reconciliation,” he said. The military junta has not set a date for the election but has promised U.S. President Barack Obama and Southeast Asian leaders the vote would be free, fair and inclusive.

~ Reuters

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