Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Aung San Suu Kyi returns home under house arrest

Agencies, Jakarta

Myanmar's prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be put under house arrest for the third time in her political career after being discharged from the hospital where she underwent major surgery, her doctor said on Friday.

"She will go home tonight (Friday night)," her personal physician Tin Myo Win was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying.

"She will go home but will still be effectively under house arrest. This has been communicated to me by the authorities concerned."

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest twice before, the first time for six years from 1989 until 1995, while the second stint ended in May 2002.

She was arrested on May 30, 2003, after a clash between her supporters and a pro-military junta gang. Following her arrest she was held in detention at a secret location, before being admitted to a private hospital in Yangon on Sept. 17 for a major operation.

In a statement read out by her doctor, the 58-year-old Nobel peace laureate thanked her supporters who have maintained a vigil outside the hospital where she was operated on for gynecological and other unspecified conditions.

"I ask specifically that nobody should want to see me leave the hospital. Anybody who wishes to see me once I am home should make arrangements through the authorities," she said in her first public comments since her arrest in May.

"I thank you for your warm concern, and I am confident that you have equal concern for my supporters," she said, referring to the leaders of her National League for Democracy who are also in detention.

In Jakarta, Ali Alatas, President Megawati Soekarnoputri's special envoy, said he did not win any commitments from the Myanmar junta on how or when Suu Kyi would be released, despite being told the restrictions on the prodemocracy leader were temporary.

However, the military junta "did indicate that they will give very careful consideration" to Indonesia's request for her early release, Alatas said.

"Hopefully there will be a positive outcome," the former foreign minister said. "So let's see what happens in the coming days."

During a one-week visit to Myanmar, Alatas held talks with top generals. Indonesia, which is the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), would like to resolve the issue before the ASEAN Summit is held in Bali on Oct. 7 and Oct. 8, with Myanmar in attendance.

Alatas said ASEAN does not want "irrelevant issues" to disturb the summit's important work of putting in place the future foundations of ASEAN.

"This is the approach that we used to discuss this issue and it was fully understood by the Myanmarese government," Alatas said.

He said that he expected there would be progress on the issue of Suu Kyi ahead of the Bali summit.

Asked what would happen if the prodemocracy leader was still in detention by the opening of the conference, Alatas said: "We will cross that bridge when we get there."

Alatas served as foreign minister under former president Soeharto, who was considered a friend and a role model by Myanmar's ruling generals.

Few observers were willing to speculate on Friday on how long this latest detention could last, but said that next week's visit by United Nations envoy to Myanmar Razali Ismail would be critical to Suu Kyi's future.

Razali, who brokered landmark talks between the junta and the opposition leader in October 2000, is expected to push the ruling generals to implement a new "road map" for reform which they unveiled last month.

Security at Suu Kyi's home on University Drive was extremely tight on Friday, with military intelligence agents blocking access to the road to everyone but residents.

During times of political tension, the road is cordoned off with barbed-wire barricades to prevent people from passing by the famous whitewashed villa.