Suu Kyi meets minister in 'first step'
Nobel Peace laureate holds first talks with Myanmar's new government since her release from house arrest last year.
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2011 20:13
Burmese pro-democracy activists shout slogans against the ruling military junta [ADP]

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has met with a senior Myanmar government official for the first time since her release from house arrest, in talks that have raised some hope of change in the military dominated nation.

Suu Kyi met for 70 minutes on Monday with Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi at a government guest house, local media reported. 

Aung Kyi, considered a moderate among the hard-ling ruling generals, described their talks as a "first step'" toward further co-operation between the pro-democracy camp and the new government.

A joint statement he read out said the meeting "included matters of law and order and also the easing of tensions for the benefit of the people".

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, the country's main opposition leader who was released from detention last year, has repeatedly asked for a dialogue with the government to solve a political deadlock focusing on the military's failure to establish democracy, the AFP news agency reported. Previous such initiatives have been unsuccessful.

Asked what she thought of Monday's meeting, Suu Kyi said only, "We expect results that are beneficial for the country and the people".

Testing political waters

Monday's meeting came shortly after Suu Kyi tested the limits of her freedom with her first visit outside Yangon since her release, refraining from overt political activities that might have antagonised the government.

The government had earlier told her party to stay out of politics, warning that "chaos and riots" could ensue if she went ahead with a planned political tour.

The 66-year-old democracy champion was freed shortly after elections that were won overwhelmingly by the military's political proxies, amid claims of cheating and the exclusion of Suu Kyi from the process.

She has since frequently urged dialogue with the government, but the authorities' decision to hold talks met with a mixed reaction from observers, with some seeing it as aimed at gaining concessions from the international community.

Also on Monday, environmental groups called for an end to foreign investment in projects exploiting Myanmar's natural resources, accusing such activities of sparking conflict in ethnic minority areas.

Heavy fighting between the rebel ethnic Kachin and Myanmar's state army took place last month in the far north of the country around a dam financed by China, AFP reported.

International praise

Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United nations, welcomed the meeting and encouraged future contacts and dialogue, a UN spokesman said on Monday.

Plans for the meeting emerged on Saturday, the same day US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Myanmar's rulers to have "meaningful and inclusive dialogue" with the opposition.

The timing of the meeting was significant, said political analyst Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

"They could have done it any week, so why this week?" he told AFP ahead of the talks, adding that they had "symbolism" and showed "both sides are trying to do some kind of constructive engagement".

Suu Kyi has spent much of the last two decades in detention, and some observers believe the government would be quick to limit her freedom again if she is perceived as a threat to their rule.

Her National League for Democracy won a 1990 general election but was barred from taking power by the army, which instead cracked down on political dissenters. Her party boycotted a fresh election held last November that was internationally denounced as unfair.

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