Daily News- May 05- 2002- Sunday

  • Myanmar Military Could Free Suu Kyi Monday
  • Vietnam president's visit to Myanmar raises questions about Suu Kyi release
  • Myanmar bans billboard advertising for cigarettes, alcohol
  • Gaze of world media rivetted on Aung San Suu Kyi's house

  • Myanmar Military Could Free Suu Kyi Monday

    YANGON (Reuters) - Nobel Peace laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be released from 19 months of house arrest as early as Monday, according to sources in military-ruled Myanmar.

    Political sources said the 56-year-old Suu Kyi was likely to be released on Monday morning and would make a statement at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) at around midday (0530 GMT).

    Senior NLD leaders say she told them she was confident of being freed soon following secret meetings with the ruling junta. But the military has made no comment on the expected release. On Yangon's University Avenue, where Suu Kyi has been confined to her home since September 2000, barricades and a "No Entry" sign remained in place on Sunday.

    Myanmar has been gripped by feverish speculation for days that Suu Kyi was set to be freed. But as day after day has gone by with no word on her release, growing doubts have emerged. Diplomats in Yangon had speculated the government would go ahead with Suu Kyi's release, which has attracted much media attention, over the weekend to avoid overshadowing an official visit by Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong, who arrived on Sunday afternoon.

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    Vietnam president's visit to Myanmar raises questions about Suu Kyi release

    By DANIEL LOVERING, Associated Press Writer

    YANGON, Myanmar - A four-day visit by Vietnam's president starting Sunday has raised questions whether the Myanmar junta's preoccupation with him would delay the expected release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

    Myanmar's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, is scheduled to greet President Tran Duc Luong and a Vietnamese delegation on their arrival at 3:30 p.m. (0900 GMT) on a visit to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties that ends Wednesday.

    The visit comes amid high expectations of Suu Kyi's release from 19 months of house arrest. Her National League for Democracy party said last week it expects her to be freed within days.The government has told journalists to watch for major political developments as a result of ongoing reconciliation talks between Suu Kyi and junta leaders.

    Scores of foreign reporters have been keeping a vigil outside the barricaded avenue that leads to Suu Kyi's lakeside villa, hoping to cover the historic moment when she emerges from house arrest.

    A military intelligence officer in charge of the area told reporters that the release won't happen Sunday."Nothing is going to happen today. So you can all leave. It's very hot. You can go," said Lt. Col. U Thura of the MI-12 unit.

    It is hoped that Suu Kyi's release will signal the junta's willingness to recognize the NLD as a legitimate political force and work with it toward restoring democracy after 40 years of military rule that has left the economy of this impoverished Southeast Asian nation in a shambles.

    Observers wonder if the junta would allow such a historic event to take place when a foreign dignitary is in town.

    During his visit, the Vietnamese leader Luong will also meet with the junta's military intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, who is third in the ruling hierarchy. Than Shwe is to host Luong at an evening banquet and traditional arts performance Sunday evening.Vietnam maintains a low-key economic trade relationship with Myanmar, but has taken steps to improve diplomatic ties in recent years as a buffer against wealthier Asian neighbors.

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    Myanmar bans billboard advertising for cigarettes, alcohol

    YANGON, May 5 (AFP) - Billboards advertising cigarettes and alcohol have been banned in the Myanmar capital as part of a looming crackdown on promotion of the products, according to reports.

    "Permits will no longer be issued for billboards advertising cigarettes and tobacco," Major Sithu Lwin from the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) told the Myanmar Times in a report to be published in its Monday edition.Sithu Lwin told the Times that 75 percent of the billboards in the capital were devoted to cigarette and alcohol. They would remain in place until their contracts expired.The ban is likely to result in a big reduction in revenue for the YCDC, which oversees the development of Yangon, the Myanmar Times said.

    Colourful billboard advertisements for cigarettes and alcohol, mostly manufactured by multinational firms, are displayed prominently along the city's thoroughfares.Many feature images of Western women dressed in slinky evening gowns, draping themselves over giant-sized packs, or men at the wheel of sports cars and motor boats, surrounded by a bevy of attractive companions.

    The decision to ban the billboards follows the formation of the National Tobacco Control Committee two months ago, the Myanmar Times said.The NTCC also plans to ban advertising of the products in journals and magazines, a representative of the body was quoted as saying.Advertising for cigarettes and alcohol has already been banned in state-owned media and daily newspapers for two years, the representative added.

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    Gaze of world media rivetted on Aung San Suu Kyi's house

    YANGON, May 5 (AFP) - The junta studiously ignores them but hoteliers are delighted to see them arrive: the first media pack to descend on Myanmar in years has set up camp outside the home of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to await her release.

    For the best part of a week their gaze has been riveted towards the whitewashed villa on University Drive where the Nobel peace laureate has spent 19 months cut off from the world by an armed guard and severed telephone lines.

    Some 50 foreign journalists, photographers and camera crews have arrived in neatly ordered Yangon, bolstering the brace of about 20 Myanmar correspondents, amid signs the opposition leader could soon be released.

    Determined not to miss the first words of the world-famous dissident when she emerges from her lakeside residence, the media pack has kept a vigil on the road, but barbed-wire barricades keep them out of sight of the house.

    Myanmar, an isolated country which does not allow a free press and forbids foreign correspondents to be permanently based here, has granted an unusual number of journalist visas over the past week.

    But now they have arrived the junta seems unsure what to do with them and has said not a word about the impending release, news of which was sparked by United Nations envoy Razali Ismail who visited here last month.

    "But this is not right, with all these journalists in town, they really should tell you something," said one indignant Yangon commentator.

    While newcomers to the country were bemused, regular visitors took it in their stride as they sipped tea at a stall set up under the shade of a giant acacia tree on University Drive.

    "From a journalist's point of view, the fact that there is no official statement, that it is impossible to meet any minister, that the NLD itself is not talking seems bizarre, especially as all these journalists from all the world are expecting some news," said one well-travelled cameraman.But "I don't think whether or not we are happy is going to influence their decisions. I don't think they are upset about whether or not we are upset!" he laughed.

    By the weekend junta sources were saying the release would not come before Monday, and that after the restrictions were lifted Aung San Suu Kyi would first visit the headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD).

    Undeterred, one dogged Japanese television crew remained outside the ramshackle headquarters which was closed for the weekend, staring mournfully at the large padlock on the front door."I'm going to wait anyway. My mission is to stay here and wait, I'm under pressure -- there are so many rumours," said one reporter.

    A cashed-up media contingent from Japan -- the largest aid donor to Myanmar -- has arrived in force and mostly opted to set themselves up at the Sedona Hotel which overlooks the famous house."But we can only really see the banana trees in the garden," admitted one of them.

    The Traders Hotel in downtown Yangon, a popular choice for visiting businesspeople, was rubbing its hands after renting out 15 rooms to Japanese, British and Australian journalists.

    "It's the first time I've seen so many journalists here at one time," said general manager Raymond Bragg, who like his colleagues has struggled to keep rooms occupied since the 1997 Asian financial crisis."It's fantastic, I have seen footage of Myanmar on CNN, on BBC, it's great publicity for this country... Perhaps she will be released and the sanctions will be lifted, this is really pro-business!"

    Apart from receiving a welcome lift during the hottest months of the year when tourists are even scarcer than usual, the hotels were cashing in on some of the highest communication costs in the world."Journalists spend more on communications, e-mails and telephone calls. It is very expensive," Bragg admits.

    Apart from renting out sought-after mobile phones for 50 dollars a day (foreign phones do not work in Myanmar), hotels were cashing in on calls costs that reach 2.10 dollars a minute to Bangkok and 4.80 dollars to London.

    But at Yangon's international airport, five journalists armed only with tourist visas were barred from joining their colleagues at the University Drive stake-out -- airport sources said they were turned away when their identity was revealed.

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