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Bangkok Post News (23/11/98)

Junta admits NLD detainees are hostages
Parliament plan be dropped, regime says

Burma's junta yesterday accused Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition of blocking
dialogue with the government, effectively warning that detained activists
were hostages to her demands for a meeting of parliament.
It had previously maintained they were "guests" holding discussions with
the government.
The fate of hundreds of National League for Democracy (NLD) members
concined to government "guest houses" lay with NLD leaders, said top
government spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Hla Min.
"The sooner the NLD decides to retract their intentions to holding this
parliament, the sooner the rest of the people would be returned home," he
said at a briefing attended by more than 30 foreign diplomats here.
NLD leaders called earlier this year for the convening of the parliament
which arose out of its landslide victory in 1990 polls which the military
government has refused to recognise.
Pressed by diplomats, Mr. Hla Min said however that even if the parliament
demand was dropped, talks with the NLD would not immediately follow, citing
"too many bad feelings" caused by the NLD's call.
The NLD, which is due to hold its own briefing today, says it is always
ready to talk with the government but officials refuse to sit down with
Aung San Suu Kyi and want to meet lower-ranking NLD members.
The opposition's demand for parliament prompted the junta's nationwide
campaign against the NLD, which prompted hundreds of activists to leave the
party after being set free.
According to government figures released yesterday, 384 NLD members had
been set free and 467 "still remain as guests of the government".
The NLD says 182 MPs are detained along with 701 other activists.
Junta officials said a further 15 NLD members could have been set free
Some 12 NLD offices have so far closed and 1,422 people resigned, they said.
The junta, known as the State Peace and Reconciliation Council, says people
have left because they are fed up with Mrs. Suu Kyi's leadership.
"After the discussions they came to the understanding that national
security is more important than politics," said the spokesman.
Diplomats in Rangoon have told AFP that the junta is trying to
systematically crush the NLD, aiming to turn it into an "empty shell"
unable to challenge for power.
The government argues the time is not yet right for elections it has
promised to hold after the drafting of a constitution.
The NLD has boycotted the drafting process, claiming generals are trying to
maintain their grip on power by rigging the electoral syatem.
In his briefing, Mr. Hla Min also said the expected that universities,
closed since 1996 amid indications they were hotbeds of revolt, would
reopen soon, perhaps before the end of the year.