Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Burma's Suu Kyi meets new president

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was invited to talks with Burma's president (AP)
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was invited to talks with Burma's president (AP)

Burma's government has invited pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to a meeting with the president in her highest contact with the new government since her release from house arrest in November.

Details of the nearly one-hour meeting with president Thein Sein were not immediately available, said a government official, but he described the meeting as "significant".

The 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate has repeatedly called for political dialogue with the government since her release from seven years of house arrest.

If Ms Suu Kyi's opposition party reaches an accommodation with the government, it could serve as a reason for Western nations to lift political and economic restrictions on the country that have hindered development and pushed it into dependence on neighbouring China.

Nyan Win, the spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi's Nation League for Democracy party, said the meeting "could be the first step towards national reconciliation," but declined to elaborate until details were available.

It remains unclear if the government is committed to a dialogue with the country's most prominent opposition leader, and whether it would be willing to discuss the kinds of reforms that would restore its legitimacy with the international community. The country's leaders previously have failed to follow through on pledges to initiate substantial reform.

The president took power in March after an election that critics dismissed as a sham to create a nominally civilian government while entrenching the country's military rulers. The new government is led by retired military figures and the constitution ensures the military retains dominance.

However, the new government has become more open about meeting with dissidents and has introduced some economic reforms.

In another conciliatory gesture, the government invited armed ethnic groups to hold peace talks earlier this week.

President Thein Sein, who was prime minister under the military junta which handed over power to his government in March, is reputed to be a moderate and relatively accessible compared to past leaders.

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