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Suu Kyi rejects Burma junta's preconditions on peace talks

By Andrew Buncombe

Having beaten them, abused them and shot many of them dead, Burma's military junta says it is trying to rebuild a relationship with the country's Buddhist monks by donating supplies of food, medicine and toothpaste.

Lieutenant-General Myint Swe has apparently delivered £4,000 of supplies to 50 monasteries and a nunnery in Rangoon. The state-run New Light Of Myanmar newspaper said the donations were accepted by the monks but there was no independent confirmation of this.

News of the regime's attempts at reconciliation with the clergy following its violent repression of pro-democracy protests came as the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the junta should not affix preconditions to its offer to meet her.

In a statement issued by her party, the National League for Democracy, she rejected the deal, saying: "The success of a dialogue is based on sincerity and the spirit of give and take. The will for achieving success is also crucial and there should not be any pre-condition."

The junta has said it is willing to meet the 62-year-old but only if she first renounces her calls for international sanctions. Yesterday, it appointed the deputy labour minister, Aung Kyi, as "manager for relations" with opposition leaders, apparently at the behest of the UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who visited Burma 10 days ago and met senior General Than Shwe.

General Shwe, the chairman of the State Peace and Development Council and head of the hardline regime, has met Ms Suu Kyi only once before, in 2002. On that occasion, their talks quickly broke down. He is understood to loathe the opposition leader and it is said that he does not even allow mention of her name in his presence.

Campaigners would welcome a move by the regime to talk to Ms Suu Kyi but are demanding that it drops its preconditions. They have also called for her to be released from house arrest.

"Releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from detention would be the most obvious step towards smoothing relations," said Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK. "At the same time the regime says it will agree to talks, it is arresting and torturing those people who should be involved in the talks. There is no breakthrough yet. We have seen nothing concrete from the regime but they are obviously feeling under pressure."

Last week, a draft statement condemning the regime's actions was circulated to UN Security Council members in New York. The EU and the US have warned they will push for UN sanctions if Burma fails to move towards democracy. But China, which has a veto on such a move as a member of the Security Council, has repeatedly opposed the idea.

Precisely what action the junta is taking now is unclear because it has banned journalists from entering Burma and has blocked internet access and phone lines. At the weekend, officials claimed to have released more than half of the 2,171 people arrested in the crackdown and said 400 of the 533 monks detained had been "sent back to their respective monasteries".

At the same time, reports from exiled Burmese suggest that the regime is still making strenuous efforts to track down activists and those involved in the protests. Troops recently discovered 12 satellite phones used by activists to contact the outside world. Meanwhile, a diplomat at the Burmese embassy in London said last night he had resigned as a result of the regime's actions against the monks. "I have never seen such a scenario in the whole of my life," Ye Min Tun added.

"This revolution, this incident seemed to be the decisive factor that could persuade the government to go to the negotiation table. But actually the government ignored the reality."

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