Suu Kyi holds talks with government

2011-07-25 13:02

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Yangon - Aung San Suu Kyi met with a minister of Myanmar's new government for the first time on Monday, raising tentative hopes of sustained dialogue between the opposition icon and authorities.

Just days after the US called for "concrete" progress towards democracy, Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest soon after a controversial election in November, began talks with labour minister Aung Kyi in Yangon.

"They are meeting now," a government official said without offering further details, as reporters waited outside the venue - a state guesthouse in Myanmar's main city.

Suu Kyi has frequently urged dialogue with the government since her release, but the authorities' decision to hold talks met with a mixed reaction from observers, with some seeing it as aimed at gaining concessions from the international community.

Details of the meeting's agenda were not clear, Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party spokesperson Nyan Win told AFP on Sunday, but he earlier said a meeting between the two sides would be "good".

First meeting

Aung Kyi was in charge of relations between the military junta and Suu Kyi under Myanmar's previous regime, but this was to be the first meeting between them since the new government was formed, an official told AFP at the weekend.

The dialogue is due to take place in the early afternoon at a state guesthouse. The pair have met before on several occasions, including in late 2009 while Suu Kyi was still under a seven-year period of house arrest.

The 66-year-old democracy champion was freed shortly after elections that were won overwhelmingly by the military's political proxies. The polls were marred by claims of cheating and the exclusion of Suu Kyi from the process.

The government has since warned her to stay out of politics.

News of the planned meeting with Aung Kyi emerged on Saturday, the same day that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Myanmar's rulers to have "meaningful and inclusive dialogue" with the opposition.

A US official travelling with Clinton also said the Myanmar government's bid for the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2014 would be in doubt unless it reformed its ways.

The timing of the meeting was therefore significant, said political analyst Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Symbolic talks

"They could have done it any week, so why this week?" he said, adding that the talks had "symbolism" and showed "both sides are trying to do some kind of constructive engagement".

Suu Kyi has spent much of the last 20 years as a prisoner in her Yangon home, and some observers believe the government would be quick to limit her freedom again if she is perceived as a threat to their rule.

Renaud Egreteau, a Myanmar expert at Hong Kong University, said it was likely the talks were happening because "the regime wants to get something from the international community".

Maintain sanctions

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a renewal of sanctions that ban the import of goods from Myanmar, including lucrative gems, and restrict visas issued to government officials.

Suu Kyi has said international sanctions should be maintained, at least until Myanmar's more than 2 000 political prisoners are released.

She has tested the boundaries of her freedom this month, in particular with her first visit outside Yangon since her release, when she refrained from any overt political activities that might have antagonised the government.

Suu Kyi's party, which won a landslide election victory two decades ago that was never recognised by the junta, was disbanded by the military regime last year because it boycotted the latest vote, saying the rules were unfair.

Read more on:    aung san suu kyi  |  myanmar
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