By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's most famous political prisoners on Saturday voiced support for democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a week after their mass release, but said they would not contest April by-elections for seats in parliament.
The "88 Generation Students Group," which led a 1988 uprising that was brutally suppressed by the then military regime, said it was too soon to form a political party and would take a wait-and-see approach to reforms being initiated by the nominally civilian government that came to power last year.
The group, led by Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, who were freed this month after being jailed for leading the 1988 revolt, is regarded as Myanmar's most popular opposition group after Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
"We support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's decision to take part in the upcoming election for the emergence of genuine democracy," the group said in a statement read at a conference attended by more than 800 people in Yangon. Daw is a Burmese honorific.
"The 88 Generation Students Group will provide her with support and encouragement," it said.
Suu Kyi, herself a former political prisoner who was released in November 2010, has reversed her stance on boycotting Myanmar's army-dominated political system following a series of surprise reforms by the new government.
The NLD boycotted the widely criticized 2010 elections but has re-registered as a party and will field candidates -- including Suu Kyi herself -- in April by-elections for 48 vacant seats in the 1,158-seat national legislature.
LEAP OF FAITH
The NLD's decision to take part has been welcomed by the international community but has not been entirely supported by the Burmese public, some of which feel Suu Kyi is being used by the former generals now in government to legitimize their new political system.
Analysts and diplomats say last week's release of more than 300 political prisoners, together with transparent April polls, could see the start of a gradual lifting of Western sanctions imposed due to the harsh rule of the country's former junta.
Ko Ko Gyi said the group would keep an open mind regarding the reforms under way in recent months, which include prisoner releases, more media freedom, tentative moves to overhaul the long stagnant economy and peace talks with ethnic militias.
"We are neither optimistic or pessimistic. We just try to see things as they are," he said.
"We don't care whether the glass is half full or half empty. We will just watch what they will do with the water already in the glass."
The 88 Generation said it would fully cooperate with the government to build a "new state" and said all parties, including the military, needed to work together for a brighter future, which should include activists still in detention or those driven into exile.
The stance reflects a remarkable lack of bitterness towards those still in power, who were part of a regime that ensured members of the group were locked up for years in dire conditions, some subjected to torture and malnourishment.
"We will cooperate with all national forces for the emergence of a wider peace process through talks being held at present," it said.
"For democracy, peace and development, we will do all we can to the best of our ability to cooperate with the government led by the president, the People's Parliament, the National Parliament, the military, all political parties, ethnic nationalities and all the pro-reformists from all walks of life in our society."
(Writing by Martin Petty)