Fruitful Talks With Opposition

U.S. diplomat meets with Burma’s opposition leader.

yun&assk2011_305.jpg Joseph Yun talks to reporters after his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon, May 19, 2011.

A senior U.S. official said he held a “very good” meeting with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Thursday, discussing the country’s new government leadership and future plans for U.S. engagement to induce reforms.

Joseph Yun, the deputy U.S. assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific affairs, held a one-hour meeting with the Nobel laureate in Rangoon as part of a four-day visit to the country ending Saturday.

Yun met on Wednesday with the country’s new foreign minister, Wanna Maung Lwin, and plans to hold talks with a number of other opposition members and civil society leaders before his visit ends.

Win Tin, a spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said the talks, which were closed to the media, focused on each side’s current actions and opinions of the new nominally civilian government, which took power in March following November elections.

“The NLD explained to Yun and the other members of his delegation about our activities, and Yun explained what the U.S. has been doing, including plans to assign a special envoy to the country. Mr. Yun also explained what he had discussed with the new foreign minister,” he said.

Yun suggested that the two sides had made progress in their meeting, describing the talks with Suu Kyi as "very good," though he did not reveal details of the discussion.

"We have a policy of engagement," Yun told reporters, referring to the U.S. position on Burma in light of the new political landscape.

"But certainly I will take back what I learned from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as Naypyidaw," he added, referring to the Burmese capital where he held talks with the foreign minister.

After the meeting, Yun met with the NLD Central Executive Committee (CEC) and the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP), an umbrella organization consisting of parliamentarians elected in the country’s last polls in 1990 who were prevented from taking office by the ruling junta.

Win Tin said Aung San Suu Kyi also participated in the follow-up meeting.

“The NLD talked about their activities and their future plans. The U.S. delegation explained what they will do after the special envoy arrives in Burma,” he said.

Limited amnesty

Win Tin said the two sides also discussed the recent limited amnesty granted by the Burmese government, which commuted the sentences of prisoners on death row to life in prison and reduced the jail terms of all prisoners by one year.

The announcement resulted in the release of only a handful of Burma’s estimated 2,200 political prisoners, many of whom are serving double-digit jail terms for peaceful political activism.

“Amnesty means ‘all-inclusive’—freedom for all prisoners. This so-called ‘amnesty’ included only 55 political prisoners, as far as I can tell. Aung San Suu Kyi said, ‘We cannot call this amnesty’.”

Win Tin said Yun’s delegation also discussed ongoing efforts by the U.S. government to select an envoy to situate in Burma as part of efforts launched by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 to engage the Burmese leadership.

“The U.S. president has nominated a special envoy and submitted the appointment to the U.S. Senate. After the Senate approves, the envoy will travel to Burma shortly after—maybe in the next couple of months,” Win Tin said.

“I expect the new Burmese government will accept the envoy.”

A domestic journalist who attended a press briefing after the meetings, which was held at Suu Kyi’s home in Rangoon, said the NLD leader informed the press that she and Yun had discussed their opinions of the new Burmese government and their expectations of future policy in Burma.

“When I asked her how the U.S. views the new government, Aung San Suu Kyi told me that I had best ask Yun myself,” the journalist said.

“The U.S. diplomat didn’t say much at the briefing, just a few words, and then he left,” he said, adding that Yun’s delegation consisted of seven members.

UN visit

Yun’s trip to Burma follows a three-day visit by Vijay Nambiar, the top aide to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Nambiar’s visit, which also marked the first by a top U.N. official to Burma since the new government took office, ended Friday.

As his visit concluded, Nambiar said he was “encouraged” by statements made by the government about “concrete steps” it plans towards reform, raising international expectations of an amnesty for the country’s estimated 2,200 political prisoners.

Instead, newly installed President Thein Sein announced Monday that the government would grant a limited amnesty to all of Burma’s prisoners.

Opposition groups and human rights watchdogs reacted angrily to the announcement.

Human Rights Watch called the decision “a slap in the face to a senior United Nations envoy who had just called for the release of all political prisoners in Burma” while the U.S. Campaign for Burma said it served as a reminder that the country’s new government is “merely a continuation of military rule and military mindset under a veneer of civilian guise.”

Aung San Suu Kyi was herself set free following the November elections after spending most of the past two decades under house arrest.

But despite her release, Burma continues to face heavy criticism from Western powers who have pledged to keep sanctions against the nation in place until the new government demonstrates a capacity for change.

Suu Kyi told reporters that the U.S. had likely maintained sanctions against the country "because they do not think there has been significant change in Burma."

"This is very much in line with U.S. policy all along. The sanctions will be lifted when they think that there has been significant change."

Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Soe Winn. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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