YANGON, Oct 20 (Reuters) Myanmar's military junta has freed an 82-year-old member of the opposition National League for Democracy who was sentenced to five years in jail for joining protests against the regime last month.
''They said it was because of my old age,'' Sein Kyaw, among five members of Aung San Suu Kyi's party sentenced to long jail terms this week in Rakhine state, 250 miles (400 km) northwest of Yangon, said after his release yesterday.
The other four included 85-year-old Kyaw Khine who was jailed for seven and a half years. Relatives said he was not even in town during the protests against 45 years of military rule put down ruthlessly by the army.
''I think U Kyaw Khine will also be freed soon. He is even older than me,'' Sein Kyaw, the NLD chairman in Gwa Township, told Reuters.
Their closed trials were held despite appeals from abroad for the release of thousands of people arrested when the junta sent the army in to end huge demonstrations which began as small protests against fuel price rises in August and escalated as Buddhist monks joined in.
The junta says 10 people were killed in September's crackdown but Western governments say the toll is likely far higher.
The military has run the reclusive Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma since 1962, refusing to hand over power after Suu Kyi's party won a 1990 election.
United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari is touring Asia seeking a common approach to persuading the generals to compromise with Suu Kyi, who has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years in detention.
Despite junta strongman Than Shwe agreeing to meet Suu Kyi if she gave up key positions, the regime has shown no sign of deviating from its 7-step ''roadmap to democracy'' which critics deride as a sham to keep the generals in power.
REUTERS SS BST1305