November 05, 2009 07:35
A senior U.S. official has held talks with Burma's prime minister and detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The meetings are the highest-level dialogue between the U.S. and Burma in more than a decade.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell met with Burma's opposition and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
For the meetings, Burma's military government allowed the Nobel prize winner to temporarily leave her house, where she has been held under arrest for most of the last two decades.
Campbell and Aung San Suu Kyi met privately for two hours at a hotel in Rangoon and then she was taken back to her home. He earlier met with Burma's Prime Minister Thein Sein, but he did not meet ruling general Than Shwe. The meetings are the highest level talks in Burma in 14 years and part of Washington's new policy of engaging the military government after years of isolation.
Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and rights groups have cautiously welcomed the visit.
But Amnesty International Burma researcher Benjamin Zawacki says despite the visit, they are not optimistic that Burmese authorities will agree to demands to release political prisoners and allow for democracy.
"The real fear, of course, is that it could hurt the efforts. Certainly since the U.S. announced the results of its policy revue, there have been 128 political prisoners released," said Zawacki. "But, that is really just a tiny drop in the bucket when you consider there are more than 2,100 others behind bars there. And, just within the last week there, roughly 50 more were swept up off the streets and imprisoned."
The United States, the United Nations, and others have for years been urging Burma to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma's military rulers have ignored the international pressure and in August extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house detention by 18 months, excluding her from participating in next year's elections.
Burma's military rulers have altered the constitution so they will keep power regardless of next year's elections. But there are some signs that Burma may be warming up to Washington's new policy as well as to Aung San Suu Kyi.
At an October meeting of Asian leaders in Thailand, Prime Minister Thein Sein indicated they may reduce restrictions against Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her some role in Burma's reconciliation efforts if she behaves.
Burma's military government wants damaging economic sanctions by the United States, the European Union, and others against it lifted and Aung San Suu Kyi has said she is willing to help.
Washington says its sanctions will remain in place until Burma improves human rights and makes real steps towards democracy.
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