, YANGON, Feb 26 – Myanmar\’s Supreme Court on Friday rejected an appeal by Aung San Suu Kyi against her extended house arrest, her lawyer said, keeping her in detention ahead of polls promised by the junta for this year.
The opposition leader, locked up by the regime for most of the past two decades, had her incarceration lengthened by 18 months in August after being convicted over a bizarre incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside home.
Her legal team immediately vowed to lodge a final "special" appeal with Myanmar\’s chief justice to win her freedom. Suu Kyi was not at the court in the former capital Yangon to hear Friday\’s verdict.
"The appeal was rejected. They just read out the order which did not include the reason, so we do not know why they rejected it," said Nyan Win, her lawyer and the spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD).
"Today we will go for a special appeal," he added.
The next step would be to write to the chief justice and ask for a panel of judges in Yangon to hear the special appeal, he said. If that failed they could ask for a similar appeal to be heard in the new capital Naypyidaw.
A lower court threw out an initial appeal in October.
A Myanmar official said the court had also rejected appeals by Suu Kyi\’s two female live-in assistants against similar periods of detention.
Suu Kyi has been in jail or under house arrest for 14 of the last 20 years since the country\’s last elections in 1990, which the NLD won by a landslide. The junta then prevented the party from taking power.
She has previously dismissed comments by Home Affairs Minister Maung Oo, who reportedly said she would be released in November, as "unfair" ahead of any court decision.
Junta chief Than Shwe has promised to hold elections this year but has failed to set a date. Critics say the polls are aimed at simply entrenching the generals\’ power.
The British, French, US and Australian envoys went to the court for Friday\’s verdict.
French ambassador Jean-Pierre Lafosse said Suu Kyi "should be released immediately as one of the conditions for real national reconciliation".
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "appalled and saddened" by the court\’s decision but said it came as "no surprise", in a statement on the British Foreign Office website.
A foreign office statement said dialogue between all political sides in Myanmar – including Suu Kyi -offered "the best prospects for national reconciliation and the long-term political stability".
Singapore, which like Myanmar is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the decision was "very disappointing".
Suu Kyi\’s continued detention keeps her off the scene for the elections, in which she is effectively barred from standing anyway by the constitution. A quarter of the parliamentary seats up for grabs are reserved for the army.
She has said it is too early for her party to decide whether to participate.
Exiled Myanmar activist Aung Din of the US Campaign for Burma said the international community had to put more pressure on the regime.
"I am not surprised by the Supreme Court\’s decision. Than Shwe already made the verdict for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and no judge will have the nerve to change it," he said.
At least 2,100 other political prisoners remain behind bars in Myanmar, according to UN figures.
Friday\’s ruling comes a week after UN human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana said he "deeply regretted" being refused access to Suu Kyi during a five-day trip to the country.
Myanmar\’s government has given mixed signals ahead of the polls, earlier this month releasing deputy NLD leader Tin Oo after seven years of detention, but jailing five other dissidents during Quintana\’s visit.
Suu Kyi herself has made efforts to defrost relations with the junta since late last year, while US President Barack Obama\’s administration has pursued greater engagement with the Myanmar regime.