Aung San Suu Kyi holds rare talks with diplomats


Suu Kyi was escorted from her home-cum-prison Friday morning to the state-owned Seinle Kantha Guesthouse where she met US Deputy Head of Mission Thomas Vajta, British Ambassador Andrew Heyn, who represented the European Union, and Australian Deputy Head of Mission Simon Christopher Starr, government sources said.

The surprise meeting followed two sessions of talks between Suu Kyi and junta liaison Relations Minister Aung Kyi earlier this month to discuss her proposal to help end sanctions against the regime that has kept her under house arrest for 14 years.

Although details have not been made available, government sources confirmed the meetings were about Suu Kyi's Sep 25 letter to junta leader Senior General Than Shwe, offering to help persuade Western democracies to lift their economic sanctions.

Suu Kyi, 64, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party, has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest and is currently serving another 18-month sentence in her family compound.

In her letter, Suu Kyi asked permission to meet Western diplomats and expressed willingness to cooperate with the junta regarding the sanctions issue if three points were discussed: which countries imposed economic sanctions, their impact and the reason why they were imposed.

International sanctions have been imposed on Myanmar since 1988, when the military brutally cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations, leaving an estimated 3,000 people dead.

The US and the European Union have increased their sanctions as the junta first refused to acknowledge the NLD's victory in the 1990 elections, and then arrested critics and suppressed all forms of dissent. Many of the sanctions target the top generals specifically.
Earlier this year, Than Shwe hinted that he would be willing to open a political dialogue with Suu Kyi if she agreed to cooperate on the sanctions issue.

Most Western nations have demanded that Than Shwe release Suu Kyi and some 2,000 other political prisoners as a first step towards democratisation in the country, which has been under military rule since 1962. Suu Kyi and the NLD demand the same thing.

Washington recently announced a new policy of greater "engagement" with Myanmar. It is calling on the military to improve its human rights record, allow democratic reforms and release political prisoners ahead of a planned general election in 2010.

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