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Burma: Ambassador discusses release of Aung San Suu Kyi

TONY EASTLEY: Australia's Ambassador in Burma is Stuart Hume(?). I asked him if Burma's military rulers expected anything in return for Aung San Suu Kyi's release.

STUART HUME: Well, I think the step will be received as an enormously important signal that things can move in the right direction here. It comes at a time when I think there's been a very clear sense that progress towards human rights reform and improvement in the democratic situation has been slowing down, if not actually come to a halt.

So it will be, I think, seen as a reaffirmation that things can move in the right direction, and also one which will be received very positively by the international community.

TONY EASTLEY: Are we likely to see a re-emergence of the NLD - the National League for Democracy, and in fact the democracy movement in Burma, as a result?

STUART HUME: I think, Tony, it's very clear that Aung San Suu Kyi remains an enormously potent symbol of the democratic aspirations of the Burmese people. And in my view, her release could therefore reinvigorate the National League for Democracy. I think for that reason it's obviously a risky step for the SLORC, but the Government has recently made a major statement, reaffirming its intention to stick to its political and economic objectives, and I think it's important, therefore, to see this decision as one taken from strength, rather than weakness.

TONY EASTLEY: Is there a risk, do you think, that the actual release of Aung San Suu Kyi could blinker the rest of the world, could cloud the human rights problems that still remain in Burma, despite her release?

STUART HUME: Well, the decision is clearly very important, and it's one which, as I've said, the Australian Government has been urging the SLORC to take for many years. But it is, after all, only one of many steps which the international community wants to see taken in this country. There are a number of concerns about the human rights situation in Burma, some of them clearly of long-term consequence. So while it's an important and very welcome step, it is after all only an initial step at this stage. And I think that governments, including our own .. I'm sure that the international community will retain firmly in view those other areas of concern about the situation.

TONY EASTLEY: What are those areas of concern?

STUART HUME: There are some immediate issues, such as the release of the remaining political detainees, which is an important objective. We would like to see the international committee of the Red Cross have access to those detainees in the Burmese prisons. The longer-term ones relate, of course, to the role of the Burmese military in future government and its democratic accountability to whatever parliament is formed in the future.

TONY EASTLEY: Australia's Ambassador in Burma, Stuart Hume.