Yangon, Detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with a newly appointed Myanmar government official on Thursday (25 September), part of UN-brokered attempt to nudge her and the military junta toward reconciliation.
It was the first known meeting between Suu Kyi under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years and “minister for relations” retired major general Aung Kyi, who was appointed to the post on 8 October to hold talks with her.
Suu Kyi was driven a few minutes from her home to a government guest house, where she held talks with Aung Kyi between 2 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., state-run television reported, but gave no further details.
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San SuuKyi, right, tours the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, after being released from house arrest in this May 6, 2002, file photo
Television images showed Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi seated in high-backed chairs having a discussion, a scene that suggested two dignitaries in a meeting rather than someone under house arrest.
With Aung Kyi’s appointment, the junta said it hoped to achieve “smooth relations” with Suu Kyi. Early this month the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece of the junta, printed a brief official announcement on its front page saying that Aung Kyi had been appointed “minister for relations” to coordinate contacts with Suu Kyi, the country’s democracy icon.
Appointing a liaison officer had been suggested by UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his 29 September-2 October visit to Myanmar, state media said.
Gambari had met with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe and Suu Kyi separately during his visit.
A protest movement which began on 19 August over the government raising fuel prices mushroomed over several weeks into a broad-based anti-government movement pressing for democratic reforms.
Tens of thousands demonstrated the largest protests in nearly two decades of brutal military rule.
Gambari’s trip came after troops quelled mass protests with gunfire. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said “the meeting is a good thing but not sufficient.”
“There is a need for a full reconciliation process to start, a transition” to democracy, he told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
“We believe it’s very important for Mr. Gambari ... to be involved in the dialogue with regard to reconciliation,” he said.
Khalilzad said Suu Kyi “has to be in circumstances where she can consult, meet with her party members, and have informed discussion with the government with regard to the transition, and those circumstances are not there.”
He said the US and the UN are trying to get India, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to use their influence to encourage the government to change Suu Kyi’s conditions, speed Gambari’s return, and release prisoners.
The UN has said Myanmar had agreed to move up the date of Gambari’s next visit to early November from mid-November.
Aung Kyi’s exact duties have not been detailed, but it appeared he would coordinate all of Suu Kyi’s contacts with both the regime and the UN, which is seeking to end the political deadlock between democracy advocates and the military that has ruled since 1962.
Aung Kyi has a reputation among foreign diplomats, UN officials and aid groups as being relatively accessible and reasonable compared to other senior junta leaders, who are highly suspicious of outsiders.
Early this month, the government announced that Than Shwe was willing to meet with Suu Kyi but only if she met certain conditions, like renouncing support for foreign countries’ economic sanctions against the military regime.
Than Shwe has only met Suu Kyi once before, in 2002.
It remains unknown if Suu Kyi will accept the offer, which also demanded she drop her alleged efforts backing “confrontation” and “utter devastation.” The ruling generals have accused her and her party of collaborating with foreign nations to sabotage their own plans for a phased return to democracy.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.