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Burmese Military's Offer to Meet Opposition Leader Questioned

05 October 2007

The sincerity of the Burmese leadership's offer to meet with pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi is being questioned by activist groups. But at least one critic of Burma's military government calls the offer a positive step. Chad Bouchard reports from Bangkok.

Burma's senior general, Than Shwe, says he is willing to speak with Aung San Suu Kyi - the symbol of the country's democratic opposition, who has been under house arrest for most of the last 18 years.

The offer comes with conditions, however: she has to stop promoting opposition to the government, and stop calling for international sanctions against the country.

Sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union are already in place, and the U.S. has announced additional measures. The United Nations Security Council will be meeting to debate the situation in Burma, and it, too, could impose sanctions.

Aung San Suu Kyi has supported sanctions as a way of putting pressure on the generals to carry out democratic reform.

Maung Maung is a member of the National Council of the Union of Burma, a home-based resistance party. He dismisses Than Shwe's offer as mere public relations in advance of the U.N. debate.

"We see that this is just PR, because the Security Council decision is going to be discussed. So this is a PR thing," he said. "And on the statement we say that this is very unfair. It is not Aung San Suu Kyi that brought on the sanctions, it is the regime that brought on the sanctions themselves. If they really wanted to talk with Daw Suu, she is in Burma. So she needs to be released first, so that she has freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and they can have this kind of talk."

However, Asda Jayanama, Thailand's former ambassador to the United Nations and an outspoken critic of the Burmese dictatorship, calls Than Shwe's offer a small step forward.

"Some may say that Than Shwe is buying time - yes, but at the same time I want to say that it reflects a little progress," said Asda. "Because in the past, they did not want to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi. It's better than nothing, I think. It shows some kind of buying time, but it's up to…the Burmese political parties, to make use of this situation."

The government has also summoned the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Burma for talks on the political crisis there. The U.S. Embassy in Rangoon confirmed that charge d'affaires Shari Villarosa was in the remote capital of Naypyitaw Friday, but would not comment on the purpose of her visit.

However, on Thursday, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Villarosa would relay the standard U.S. position: the generals must start a meaningful dialogue with the opposition, end the violence against peaceful protesters, and allow economic and political reforms.

Villarosa, like other diplomats in Rangoon, has been openly critical the military's crackdown in Burma, which has left many dead and hundreds more under detention.

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