Rare Talks Held

Burma's new government holds a first meeting with the pro-democracy leader.

Aung San Suu Kyi (left) and Labor Minister Aung Kyi meet reporters after their meeting in Rangoon, July 25, 2011.

Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has held her first official talks with the country's new nominally civilian government, a development welcomed by U.N. chief Ban Ki Moon, who has again pushed for the release of the country's political prisoners.

The Nobel laureate spent about an hour with Labor Minister Aung Kyi at their meeting Monday, coming eight months after elections and her subsequent release from house arrest.

Aung Kyi read out a joint statement, saying the talks at the state guest house touched on matters of "law and order" and "easing of tensions for the benefit of the people."

The meeting was "positive," and the two have agreed to continue with the talks, according to the statement.

Aung San Suu Kyi herself had few words to offer, saying that her National League for Democracy (NLD) "always strives for the benefit of the people and will continue doing it."

NLD senior leader Win Tin said the party would issue a statement this week on the issue.
"We welcome the talks and hope eventually for a dialogue, as [Aung San Suu Kyi] believes, to resolve political issues through dialogue," he told RFA.

'Obvious differences'

On the rule-of-law issue, Win Tin said there were obvious differences between the government and the NLD.

The NLD was ordered to dissolve as a political party after it refused to participate in the last elections, complaining the rules were unfair.

The party's appeal against the decision was rejected by the courts.

"It is obvious that we have disagreement, namely the legal right of NLD's existence," Win Tin said. "I see this meeting as positive especially while the Home Ministry is trying to prevent NLD's political activities."

The NLD won a 1990 general election but was barred from taking power by the army. The latest elections officially ended more than two decades of hard-line military rule but were denounced by rights groups and many western governments as a sham.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban hoped the meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi would set the pace for "genuine" dialogue, his spokesman Martin Nesirky said Monday.

"In line with the international community's expectations and Myanmar's [Burma's] national interest, the secretary-general hopes such efforts will continue with a view to building mutual understanding through genuine dialogue," Nesirky said.

"He also calls upon the government of Myanmar to consider early action on the release of political prisoners in that country." Human rights groups believe there are about 2,000 political prisoners still being held under unfavorable conditions.

Dialogue critical

Washington also underlined the need for dialogue in Burma.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Monday cited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call last week for the Burmese government to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi in a way "where she can have influence on the future of her country."

"I can't speak to this specific meeting, but those are the steps that we want to see. And we want to make sure, also, that the Burmese government is taking great care with her security," Nuland said.

At last week's meetings hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Indonesia, Clinton urged the Burmese government to have "meaningful and inclusive dialogue" with the opposition.

The 66-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi has consistently called for a dialogue with the new government in a bid to implement much-needed reforms for the country, which has been mostly under military rule.

The elected government that took office in March is led by retired army officials, and the constitution ensures the military retains dominance.

Under the military junta, Labor Minister Aung Kyi was appointed "relations minister" to facilitate contacts with Aung San Suu Kyi, apparently because he had a moderate reputation among the hard-line military leaders. They had nine meetings during her house arrest, but no tangible outcome was ever seen.

Better results

Asked Monday about the earlier meetings, Aung Kyi denied there had been no progress, but added that this latest meeting would have better results, the Associated Press reported.

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

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent much of the last two decades in detention.

Monday's meeting came shortly after she tested the limits of her freedom with her first visit outside Rangoon since her release, while refraining from overt political activities that might have antagonized the government.

Reported by RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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