Myanmar's Suu Kyi meets with new president

August 19, 2011 - 7:55 AM
Myanmar Suu Kyi

FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2011, file photo, Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi listens as Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi, unseen, reads a statement nearby to the media after their meeting at Seinlekhanthar government guesthouse in Yangon, Myanmar. Myanmar's government invited Suu Kyi to a meeting Friday Aug. 19, 2011, with the new president, an official said, in the clearest step toward a political dialogue since she was released from house arrest in November. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win, File)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government invited democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to a meeting Friday with the president, an official said, in her highest contact with the new, nominally civilian government since her release from house arrest in November.

Details of Suu Kyi's nearly one-hour meeting with President Thein Sein were not immediately available, the government official said, but added that the meeting was "significant." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with journalists.

The 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate has repeatedly called for political dialogue with the government since her release from seven years of house arrest.

If Suu Kyi's opposition party reaches an accommodation with the government, it could serve as a reason for Western nations to lift political and economic embargoes on the country that have hindered development and pushed it into dependence on neighboring China.

Nyan Win, the spokesman for Suu Kyi's Nation League for Democracy party said Suu Kyi's meeting "could be the first step toward national reconciliation," but declined to elaborate until details were available.

It remains unclear if the government is committed to a dialogue with the country's most prominent opposition leader, and whether it would be willing to discuss the kinds of reforms that would restore its legitimacy with the international community. The country's leaders previously have failed to follow through on pledges to initiate substantial reform.

Suu Kyi made her first trip to the administrative capital Naypyitaw on Friday and later went into the meeting with Thein Sein, the official said.

Thein Sein took power in March after an election that critics dismissed as a sham to create a nominally civilian government while entrenching the country's military rulers. The new government is led by retired military figures, and the constitution ensures the military retains dominance.

However, the new government has become more open about meeting with dissidents, and has introduced some economic reforms.

Thein Sein on Wednesday also had invited Suu Kyi to attend a national economic development forum that started today in Naypyitaw. Suu Kyi did not attend the forum.

In another conciliatory gesture, the government on Wednesday invited armed ethnic groups to hold peace talks.

Suu Kyi's NLD won a 1990 general election but was barred from taking power by the army, which instead cracked down on political dissenters, and Suu Kyi — the biggest threat to the military's authority — spent 15 of the past 22 years in detention.

Her party boycotted a fresh election held last November that was internationally denounced as unfair.

President Thein Sein, who was prime minister under the military junta that handed over power to his government in March, is reputed to be a moderate and relatively accessible compared to past leaders.

In 2009, Suu Kyi requested a meeting with former junta chief Senior Gen Than Shwe so they could cooperate, but her request was denied.

Since the new government took power in March, a government minister twice met with Suu Kyi in Yangon, and authorities have not interfered with her political activities.

Critics claim Thein Sein's approach is meant only to achieve a facade of legitimacy to restore its image in the region and end Western sanctions.