How can the liberation of one woman mean so much, when the situation in Myanmar is so bleak?

With 2200 political prisoners still in squalid jails and thousands of exiles scattered from Thailand to Perth to Oslo, a petite woman continues to measure her life by the few square yards of the Yangon lakeside home where her political party was born 21 years ago.

Aung San Suu Kyi's sentence of detention was due to expire yesterday yet no one can be sure if it will be honoured.

In the airport of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand sits Nyo Ohn Myint. He was among the first to urge Suu Kyi to claim the leadership of Burma's democracy movement in 1988.

If Suu Kyi is freed Nyo Ohn Myint is making plans for her future via her lawyers.

"She's not just the secretary-general of our party," Nyo Ohn Myint said.

"She's on a different level: all the opposition leaders follow her, the students, the expatriate groups, the parties that split off from the NLD ... She is the key chain: all the parties, all the keys, fit on to it. She's going to be the political centre, the focus, and this will give her the leverage to get dialogue with the regime started again."