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Myanmar extends Suu Kyi house arrest

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military junta extended the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday, a government source and diplomats said.

The official, who asked not to be named, said a government officer had gone to the Nobel laureate’s home to read out a six-month extension order in person.

However, a Yangon-based diplomat said it was for a year.

Oxford-educated Suu Kyi, 62, has been under house arrest or in prison for nearly 13 of the last 18 years.

The extension is likely to dismay Western donor nations which have pledged tens of millions of dollars in conditional aid since Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2, leaving up to 2.4 million people destitute.

Activists criticised U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for not speaking out about Suu Kyi’s detention during his weekend visit to Myanmar, which the U.N. chief said was purely a humanitarian mission.

“It is shameful that Ban Ki-Moon went to Burma and failed even to utter her name,” Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK, said in a statement.

“He is playing into the regime’s hands. The U.N. is crawling on its knees before the regime, afraid to speak the truth in case it affects aid access deals, which the regime is already breaking in any case,” he said.

The military, criticised for its slow response to the disaster which left 134,000 dead and missing, has slowly opened the isolated Southeast Asian nation to foreign aid and workers.

But the generals have also shown no sign of relaxing their iron grip on the country.

Earlier on Tuesday, police arrested 20 youth members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) trying to march to her home in the former capital, opposition sources said.

A Reuters reporter saw at least six police trucks, a prison van and a fire engine parked near the NLD headquarters before a ceremony to mark the end of the latest phase of her house arrest.

Suu Kyi’s latest stretch of detention started “for her own protection” after clashes between her supporters and pro-junta thugs near the town of Depayin on May 30, 2003.

However, her formal house arrest under a state security law did not start until November 27 of that year. It was renewed once for six months, and has since been renewed every year on or around May 27.

The last time Suu Kyi was released, in 2002, she drew huge crowds on a tour of the country, a reminder to the generals of the huge sway the daughter of independence hero Aung San still held over Myanmar’s 57 million people.

The NLD won more than 80 percent of seats in a 1990 election, but was denied power by the military, which has ruled the former Burma since a 1962 coup.

Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler