Myanmar: Rival sides take steps toward talks

Democracy party prepared to make "adjustments" for dialogue, and junta appointed relatively flexible official to coordinate contacts.

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October 10, 2007 09:19
3 minute read.
Myanmar: Rival sides take steps toward talks

Myanmar unrest 224.88 ap. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Myanmar's ruling generals and detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi appear to be paving the way toward talks, as the two fiercely opposed sides take cautious, conciliatory steps to end a two-decade-long deadlock. Suu Kyi's party said it was prepared to make "adjustments" for the sake of dialogue, and the junta has appointed a relatively flexible Cabinet-level official to coordinate contacts with Suu Kyi. The junta's top general offered last week to meet with Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest. But he said she must first renounce her calls for international sanctions against the regime, which has been widely condemned for crushing mass, anti-regime protests last month. Small groups of riot police Wednesday patrolled key road junctions and sites where the most intense protests had erupted, including the Shwedagon Pagoda and a junction near the downtown Sule Pagoda. But soldiers were not visible on the streets, and Yangon outwardly seemed generally normal. Some rumors circulated that a small protest might be staged. Despite the conciliatory steps, reports of more arrests, and one death, continued to emerge Wednesday along with a drumbeat of attacks on Western powers and the international media, which the regime accuses of fomenting the recent uprising. An activist group in Thailand said a member of Suu Kyi's party died while being interrogated in the central Myanmar region of Sagaing after he and five other colleagues were arrested Sept. 26. Authorities in recent days informed the family of Win Shwe, 42, that their son died and his body had been cremated at the detention center, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an organization of former Myanmar political prisoners. The group said at least five more people had been arrested in Yangon in the last two days. The reports could not be independently verified. The state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper said 60,000 pro-government demonstrators gathered Tuesday in Paan in eastern Myanmar to support the junta's own "roadmap to democracy" while denouncing the United States and foreign radio stations. "It is very important for people not to be misled by killers on the airways from some countries. A handful of internal destructive elements are to be exposed," a department head at Paan University, Saw Nyunt Thaung, was quoted as saying. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy on Tuesday called for talks with the junta, but urged it not to set conditions for any meetings. "The success of a dialogue is based on sincerity and the spirit of give and take," Suu Kyi's party said in a statement, which was based on her past speeches. "The will for achieving success is also crucial and there should not be any preconditions." In its first comment since the regime held up the prospect of talks, the party appeared to be trying to encourage negotiations without abandoning its platform. The party emphasized past statements by Suu Kyi, but also said it could make "adjustments" for the sake of dialogue. On Monday, state media said the regime had appointed Deputy Labor Minister Aung Kyi as the Cabinet's "minister for relations" to coordinate contacts with Suu Kyi. He is considered more open than top junta leaders, who are deeply insular and fiercely hostile toward Suu Kyi. The Southeast Asian country has been ruled by the military since 1962, and protests that broke out in August over a fuel price hike quickly ballooned into mass demonstrations calling for democracy when widely respected Buddhist monks began spearheading daily marches. Troops crushed the protests by shooting at demonstrators Sept. 26-27. The regime said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the toll at up to 200 and say thousands of people have been arrested. The brutal crackdown ignited outrage around the globe, and international demands have grown for the junta to release the 62-year-old Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years without trial. The government said last week that the junta's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, was willing to meet personally with Suu Kyi if she met its conditions. Than Shwe has met with Suu Kyi only once, in 2002, and the talks quickly broke down. Although it named a liaison official to deal with Suu Kyi, the junta did not indicate when he might meet with her. The appointment of Aung Kyi, a retired major general, appeared to be a nod to the United Nations. The world body's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, suggested creating the Cabinet-level job during his visit to Myanmar last week, state media said.

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