Myanmar’s military government on Saturday freed the 82-year-old deputy leader of the pro-democracy party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi after nearly seven years in detention.
The release of Tin Oo, who helped found the National League for Democracy with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, comes shortly before a U.N. envoy visits the country. Ms. Suu Kyi remains under house arrest.
Mr. Tin Oo spent nearly seven years in prison and under house arrest. The junta had renewed his detention on an annual basis since his arrest in 2003, with his latest term expiring on Saturday.
Reporters saw four officials enter Mr. Tin Oo’s residence, where he had been detained. He later emerged from the building.
The U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is to arrive on Monday to evaluate its progress on human rights issues. Rights groups say the junta still holds about 2,100 political prisoners.
Mr. Tin Oo was arrested along with Ms. Suu Kyi on May 30, 2003, when a pro-government mob attacked their motorcade as they were making a political tour of northern Myanmar.
Four people were killed and 50 injured in the incident, according to official figures, but dissidents say the death toll was much higher. Hundreds of members and supporters of Ms. Suu Kyi’s party were arrested, but none of the attackers was ever brought to court.
Mr. Tin Oo was initially held in Kalay prison, known for its harsh conditions, about 430 miles (700 kilometers) north of Yangon. Since February 2004 he was held under house arrest in Yangon. His telephone was cut off, he was not allowed to receive visitors and relatives said he had been denied regular medical checkups.
A highly decorated commander, Mr. Tin Oo rose to the rank of general and served as defence minister during the 26-year socialist regime of late dictator Ne Win. He was forced into retirement in 1976 and imprisoned for three years for alleged involvement in a plot to kill Ne Win. But it is widely believed that Ne Win wanted to eliminate the highly popular Mr. Tin Oo as a potential rival.
Mr. Tin Oo spent another three years in prison after the founding of Ms. Suu Kyi’s party.