Myanmar's ruling military junta extended the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday by one year, a government official said, in a move that defied international pressure to free the Nobel laureate.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other supporters of Suu Kyi had been hopeful she would be released when the order for her detention expired yesterday.
But a government official said the order had been extended for one year. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the case with the media.
Police armed with batons were deployed near Suu Kyi's residence in Yangon early yesterday. Residents said they saw police erecting barbed-wire barricades at each end of the street, closing it to traffic yesterday morning.
"This is a big disappointment and a major setback to national reconciliation," said Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). "The extension is exactly the opposite of what we expected."
The junta took power in 1988 after crushing vast pro-democracy demonstrations in the country formerly known as Burma.
In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in general elections.
The government's rationale for detaining Suu Kyi has been that she could be a threat to public order.
Suu Kyi's eloquence and popularity have made her a dangerous rival in the eyes of the military.
Even before the 1990 election proved her party's popularity, she and several close colleagues were detained on trumped-up national security charges in an effort to curb the opposition.
While under house arrest, her party scored a landslide victory in the 1990 general election and she won the 1991 Nobel peace prize for her nonviolent efforts at promoting democracy.
Neither accomplishment moved the military. She remained under house arrest, and the military refused to hand over power to her party, instead stepping up harassment and arrests of its members.
The generals who run the country have continually insisted that they are guiding the country back to democratic rule.
But there are few signs that the ruling junta is willing to pick up the pace of its self-proclaimed road map for democracy, which calls for a constitution and free elections -- at some unspecified point in the future.
Annan, visiting neighboring Thailand on Friday, appealed to Myanmar junta chief Senior General Than Shwe, "to do the right thing" and free Suu Kyi to "allow the government and the people, not only to build the nation together, but to focus on the essential issue of economic and social development."
Hopes had run high that Suu Kyi would be released after a recent visit by UN Undersecretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, who became the first foreigner in more than two years to see her.
She has been held at her Yangon residence and rarely allowed visitors or telephone contact with the outside.
The top diplomats of two of Myanmar's neighbors in Southeast Asia, who had been hopeful for her release, were disappointed to hear of the extension.
"I am very surprised. I was hoping ... that they would not extend the house arrest. But that is their right. Of course, we are disappointed," Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters.
Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said, "I was hoping the release should come today. It was a good opportunity ... We would like to see Myanmar back in the realm of the international community, so progress in national reconciliation is something of importance. So I'm disappointed."