Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was probably the least surprised when the military government told her yesterday she would remain under house arrest for at least another year. She has, after all, been confined to her Yangon home since May 30, 2003, and spent more than 10 of the past 16 years either there or in prison. With the ruling generals as much in charge as when they seized power in 1962 - and equally as unwilling to give it up - there was little hope Ms Suu Kyi would be freed anytime soon. Internal dissent is simply not tolerated and international pressure is vastly weakened by the friendliness of neighbouring countries. That does not mean the cause of the world's best-known political prisoner is lost, but while the generals remain firmly in control, change will come on their terms and at a timetable to which they agree. Such was the situation for South Africa's Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years behind bars, East Timor's Xanana Gusmao, jailed by Indonesia for six years, and countless other freedom fighters of eras past. Their struggles were long and often grim, but spirit and the righteousness of their cause eventually won through. Historical precedence is no justification for Myanmar's brutal regime, however. The excesses of its soldiers and police are well documented - torture, rape and forced labour abound. Ms Suu Kyi is only the best-known of more than 1,000 political prisoners. Little attention is being paid, meanwhile, to other problems in the country: some of the world's worst rates of HIV/Aids and malaria, and the smuggling of great quantities of opium onto international markets. To appease critics, the generals have bought time with a seven-stage 'road map for democracy', the first step of which nears its conclusion next Monday when the final session of a national convention to draw up a new constitution is held. Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party are not participating, despite their overwhelming, but disallowed, general election win in 1990. That alone makes the process a sham. Sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union have had no effect on Myanmar, economically wedded to strategic rivals China and India. The 'constructive engagement' approach of fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is making uncertain progress. Even the demands of top-level human rights activists Desmond Tutu and Vaclav Havel that the United Nations' Security Council take up the cause are not guaranteed to succeed. This does not amount to a reason for despair; pressure is slowly building on the military. The longer it holds Ms Suu Kyi, the more her plight and cause will gain attention and momentum. Eventually, the generals will have no choice but to enter a proper dialogue with the people they so ruthlessly rule.