Burmese Opposition Leader Cites Progress in Talks
Friday, November 9, 2007
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 8 -- In a rare public statement, Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday that an initial round of talks with Burma's ruling military has made progress and that she looks forward to regular meetings with a government envoy to press for greater political freedom in her country.
"In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success," Suu Kyi said in a statement read by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari in Singapore.
Burma's government responded by announcing that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate -- under house arrest for much of the past 18 years -- will be allowed to meet with other leaders of her political party, the National League for Democracy, for the first time in more than three years. The party easily won the country's 1990 general election, but the results were nullified by the military.
Thursday's developments provided a relatively upbeat conclusion to a U.N. diplomatic mission to Burma, which the ruling generals call Myanmar. Only Wednesday, U.N. delegates voiced concern that Gambari's six-day visit might end in failure because the Burmese leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, had refused to meet with him.
It was Gambari's second trip here since Burma mounted a violent crackdown in September on Buddhist monks, students and political opposition figures protesting a spike in fuel costs. Gambari pressed the government to release political prisoners and to allow greater freedom to a broad array of political, religious and ethnic groups.
Washington reacted with skepticism to the latest Burmese announcement. "What needs to happen in Burma is that there needs to be a serious, sustained, peaceful, democratic dialogue," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "That is not something that we have seen."
The Burmese government has continued to jail and harass suspected organizers of the protests over the past month and recently ordered the United Nations' top official in Burma, Charles Petrie, to leave the country for expressing support for demonstrators.
But the government has also been compelled to make concessions, including issuing an invitation to the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who will travel to Burma next week. It has also invited Gambari to return for further discussion.
"We now have a process going which would lead to substantive dialogue," Gambari said in a prepared statement before leaving Rangoon on Thursday.
In her first public remarks in more than four years, Suu Kyi said that an Oct. 25 meeting with a Burmese minister, Aung Kyi, was "constructive" and that she expects more "meaningful" talks that would require the government to meet a timetable for democratic reforms.