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LEAD: ASEAN urges Myanmar junta to release Suu Kyi, usher in democracy+
[July 21, 2008]

LEAD: ASEAN urges Myanmar junta to release Suu Kyi, usher in democracy+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) SINGAPORE, July 21_(Kyodo) _ ASEAN foreign ministers urged Myanmar to free all political detainees in a joint communique issued after their annual meeting here Monday, explicitly naming detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time since 2003.

"While recognizing the steps undertaken by the government of Myanmar to conduct meetings with all concerned parties including the National League for Democracy leadership, we reiterated our calls for the release of all political detainees, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to pave the way for meaningful dialogue involving all parties concerned," said the communique at the end of the one-day meeting.

The naming of Suu Kyi in the communique -- something the junta resisted -- makes it stronger than one issued in July last year in Manila, which referred only to "the leader of the NLD," and the July 2006 communique that spoke only of "those placed under detention."

In their communique, the ASEAN foreign ministers also "urged Myanmar to take bolder steps towards a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future, and working towards the holding of free and fair general elections in 2010."

The NLD won the 1990 general election by a landslide but the junta refused to honor the results. Suu Kyi has been detained for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

According to Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win clarified Monday that Suu Kyi's detention will only expire toward the end of next year and said his fellow ASEAN ministers had earlier misunderstood that she could actually be released in six months.

Yeo said ASEAN ministers had "misunderstood the point made by the Myanmar minister on the limit of the detention period."

"Instead of that limit being reached six months from now, that limit will be reached six months from May 2009, which is the expiry of the existing one-year detention order" Yeo said.

Yeo had told reporters Sunday that Nyan Win indicated to other ASEAN ministers over a working dinner that his government could release Suu Kyi in about six months.

He said Nyan Win had explained that under Myanmar law, a political detainee can be held for up to six years, and thus "the six-year limit will come up in half a year's time."

Singapore had earlier proposed mentioning Suu Kyi's name in the part of this year's ASEAN communique that deals with political developments in Myanmar.

But senior ASEAN officials last week opted to tone down the wording in a draft communique by not mentioning Suu Kyi's name, due to Myanmar's complaints that it would constitute foreign interference in its domestic affairs.

Western countries have long urged ASEAN, which Myanmar joined in 1997, to put more pressure on the junta to improve its human rights record and usher in democracy.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Copyright ? 2008 Kyodo News International, Inc.

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