- Associated Press - Thursday, November 18, 2010

RANGOON, Burma | Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday that her recent release from seven years of detention did not signal a softening in the military’s harsh, decades-long rule of the Southeast Asian nation.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mrs. Suu Kyi called her detention illegal and said she was released simply because the decreed period of her house arrest had ended.

“I don’t think there were any other reasons,” she said in an interview in her small, spartan office, decorated with little except a vase of flowers and a black and white photograph of her late father, Aung San, who helped lead colonial Burma to independence from Britain. “My detention had come to an end and there were no immediate means of extending it.”

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, set free from her lakeside residence Saturday, has made it clear she plans to pursue her goal of a democratic Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, but has been careful not to verbally challenge the junta or call for its overthrow.

Her most recent detention began in 2003 after she was blamed for an attack by government thugs on her convoy. It was extended in 2009 when she briefly sheltered an American man who swam uninvited to her decaying villa.

“I never should have faced detention,” she said.

Since Saturday, though, the generals and their longtime arch rival have had no contact.

“I haven’t seen any sign of the junta at all since I came out. They haven’t made any move to let us know what they feel about the situation,” said Mrs. Suu Kyi, an unflappable and deeply charismatic woman who speaks with an upper-class British accent.

She added, though, that her goals would not change: “I had better go on living until I see a democratic Burma,” she said, laughing.

She has called for face-to-face talks with junta leader Gen. Than Shwe to reach national reconciliation.

Mrs. Suu Kyi has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years but has remained the dominant figure of Burma’s battered pro-democracy movement. An estimated 2,200 political prisoners remain behind bars.

A week before her release, a military-backed political party swept the first elections in 20 years amid widespread accusations that the balloting was rigged. Final results have yet to be announced, but some military candidates took 90 percent and more of the votes in their constituencies.

Many observers say Mrs. Suu Kyi’s release was timed to shift attention from the elections and the international condemnation of them.

“It’s a public relations maneuver to appease domestic opinion as well as the international community, and to deflect attention from the fraudulent Nov. 7 election,” Bertil Lintner, a prominent writer on Myanmar, said in e-mail.

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