World News

Myanmar lets Suu Kyi's party reopen offices

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military government has allowed the party of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to reopen regional branch offices that have been closed since May 2003, a party spokesman said on Thursday.

A woman stands under the sign for the Yangon Division office of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Tarmwe township in Yangon March 11, 2010. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

“So far as we have heard, about 100 branch offices have been reopened across the country, effective Wednesday,” said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The government closed down NLD branch offices after an attack on Suu Kyi’s convoy by pro-regime elements on May 30, 2003. Scores of NLD followers were killed, according to her supporters.

Nyan Win gave a guarded welcome to the government’s move.

“Yes, it’s a positive step,” he said. “I think they want us to take part in the election, but we still haven’t made up our mind about this. We still need to talk it over among the top leaders, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”

The junta plans elections at an unspecified date this year, although the poll has been widely derided in advance as a sham to make the country appear democratic, with the military retaining control over key ministries and institutions.

This week it began publishing a series of election laws in state media, including one mentioning for the first time that the result of the last nationwide polls in 1990 -- won by the NLD but ignored by the junta -- was annulled because they failed to comply with a law enacted on Monday.

The NLD won 392 of the 485 seats in parliament in the 1990 election but was never allowed to rule.

The second election law, published on Wednesday, obliges the NLD and some other parties to re-register within 60 days with a new election commission.

Failure to do so means they will have to fold.

In order to register, they have to exclude party members who are serving prison terms.


That would include Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years in some form of detention and is now serving 18 months in house detention for breaching security laws.

Suu Kyi described the law excluding political prisoners as “shameful” and was intended to sideline her.

“This law seems to have been drawn up for a particular person,” Nyan Win quoted her as saying after meeting her on Thursday afternoon at her lakeside home in Yangon.

“A law should have been meant for all, not a particular person like this. It’s very shameful and I am very disappointed.”

Regardless of the law, a clause in both the current and previous constitutions would have prevented Suu Kyi from standing because of her marriage to a foreigner -- the late British academic Michael Aris -- and British citizenship of her children.

Many other senior NLD members are among more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar, according to rights activists. All would effectively be barred from taking part in the election.

Nyan Win described some of the provisions of the new law as “completely unacceptable”.

Parties wanting to register also have to give a written commitment to uphold the constitution passed in 2008, which the NLD rejects and campaigned against. “It’s completely impossible for us,” he said.

The United States said on Wednesday the restrictions were “a step in the wrong direction” that made a mockery of democracy, while rights group Amnesty International urged the government to overturn the law, saying political prisoners should be allowed to take part in the polls.

“Instead of passing laws that strip away more of their rights, the Myanmar authorities should immediately release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and remove restrictions on their political activity,” Amnesty said.

Writing by Alan Raybould and Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait