Myanmar's military-ruled government may release pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi soon, so she can play a role in next year's general elections, according to a senior Myanmar diplomat.
The remarks by Min Lwin _ rare for a Myanmar government official on an overseas visit _ were in line with vague comments in recent years by the junta that it intends to free Suu Kyi soon. But officials have given no time frame and have made no real moves to release her.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years and not been able to speak publicly since she was last taken into detention in May 2003.
A court recently sentenced the 64-year-old to an additional 18 months of house arrest, which would prevent her from participating in the elections _ the first in two decades _ unless she is granted a special release.
"There is a plan to release her soon ... so she can organize her party," Min Lwin, a director-general in the Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press in Manila. He refused to elaborate, and it was not clear if he meant that Suu Kyi would be allowed to campaign.
There is no indication that the government would allow Suu Kyi to run in the election. Myanmar's constitution includes provisions that bar Suu Kyi from holding office and ensure the military a controlling stake in government.
Min Lwin said the proposal to free Suu Kyi was not influenced by the recent change in U.S. policy under President Barack Obama, who is seeking to engage Myanmar, also known as Burma. The Bush administration had shunned any direct talks with the reclusive Southeast Asian nation.
Although Myanmar welcomes the new policy, Min Lwin said he did not expect any major changes in the near future, mainly because U.S. sanctions are still in force.
Min Lwin was in Manila to attend a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United States.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs Scot Marciel held separate talks last week with Myanmar's ruling generals and Suu Kyi _ the highest-ranking visit by American officials to Myanmar in 14 years.
Suu Kyi is satisfied with her meeting with U.S. officials and believes they "have good intentions toward Myanmar and are making efforts to work for democratic reform for the country," her lawyer Nyan Win said Monday.
Obama will meet ASEAN leaders on Nov. 15, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Singapore, bringing him in rare contact with Myanmar's prime minister, Gen. Thein Sein.
Officials have not said if Obama will meet privately with Thein Sein. The last U.S. president to meet a Myanmar leader was Lyndon B. Johnson, who held talks with then-Prime Minister Ne Win in 1966.
Despite their new approach to Myanmar, U.S. officials have said that tough sanctions against the junta will remain in place until talks with its generals result in democratic reforms.