Breakthrough in Burma - Talks Are a Start ; Meetings between Aung San Suu Kyi and Government Are First Positive Step in Years

By Ingram, Simon | The Christian Science Monitor, January 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Breakthrough in Burma - Talks Are a Start ; Meetings between Aung San Suu Kyi and Government Are First Positive Step in Years


Ingram, Simon, The Christian Science Monitor


Burmese opposition groups are urging the international community to keep up pressure on the military government in Rangoon, the capital, amid hopes that the country's long-running and costly political stalemate may have finally broken.

Tuesday's announcement by the United Nations of the first meeting between the military junta and the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in more than five years has sparked expressions of unusual optimism.

"This is a historic breakthrough," says Teddy Buri, of the Bangkok-based National Council of the Union of Burma. "It shows that despite the hard-line posture they strike in public, the generals realize - in their heart of hearts - that there needs to be a change."

Clearly, there is still a very long way to go. Ms. Suu Kyi herself remains under what amounts to house arrest - a restriction imposed last September, when security forces barred her from meeting supporters outside the capital. It's far from clear when these - and even harsher punitive measures against her senior colleagues in the National League for Democracy - will be lifted.

The crackdown on the NLD had unleashed a fresh torrent of criticism from Western governments. Late last year, the International Labor Organization called for tougher action against Burma, also called Myanmar, because of its alleged failure to end forced labor and continued reports of massive human rights violations.

Observers say that it was the threat of tighter sanctions against a country whose economy is already in dire straits that prompted the military leadership to change tack and agree to talks with Suu Kyi. But some question the sincerity of a regime that regularly heaps venom on the woman who led the NLD to victory in elections in 1990 - a victory that has never been honored. Until just days ago, state-run newspapers derided Suu Kyi as a witch and a traitor to her people (her marriage to the late British academic Michael Aris earned her particular scorn). …

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