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Myanmar Junta Lets Suu Kyi Meet Party Elders


Aung San Suu Kyi (file photo)

Aung San Suu Kyi (file photo)

YANGON (Reuters) -- Detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was briefly allowed out of her home today by the military government to meet senior members of her party, and one said they had agreed to changes in the party leadership.

Suu Kyi had asked the junta in a letter dated November 11 to be allowed to see the three elderly party leaders and also requested a meeting with junta supremo General Than Shwe. She also said she wanted to hold a plenary meeting of leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD).

Rights groups have expressed doubts over whether political prisoners including Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate detained for 14 of the last 20 years, will be released in time for elections next year, even under pressure from Washington.

The military government has promised U.S. President Barack Obama and Southeast Asian leaders the vote will be free, fair, and inclusive, and in recent months allowed Suu Kyi to meet the junta's liaison officer and foreign diplomats.

Early today she met NLD Chairman Aung Shwe, 92, party secretary U Lwin, 85, and committee member Lun Tin, 82, for 45 minutes at a state guesthouse about five minutes by car from her residence, where she has been held under house arrest.

"She asked the leaders for permission to reorganize the central executive committee of the party, which we agreed to," U Lwin told reporters after the meeting.

That could pave the way for the promotion within the party leadership of younger politicians, perhaps with an eye on parliamentary elections planned for next year.

The NLD has not yet said whether it would take part in the elections, portrayed by the generals as a move to a multiparty democracy but derided by opponents as a sham designed to let the army retain real power.

Suu Kyi had asked in her letter to junta leader Than Shwe to discuss cooperation "in the interest of the nation."

On December 9, state media, which serve as a mouthpiece for the junta, called her moves towards reconciliation insincere and dishonest, but on the same day she was visited by the labor minister, who acts as a go-between for the junta, suggesting the generals wanted to keep communication going.

Veteran politician and retired ambassador Thakhin Chan Tun welcomed the fact that Suu Kyi had been granted permission to see her party colleagues.

"Of course, we welcome their meeting, no matter what they discussed. Everybody would agree with me," he told Reuters, adding that he hoped she would now be allowed to see Than Shwe to discuss the future of the country.

Detention

Suu Kyi was sentenced in August to house detention for harboring an American who swam uninvited across a lake to her lakeside home. His stay was in breach of the terms of her previous house arrest.

In September, Suu Kyi made a formal offer to the regime to help negotiate with Western countries to lift sanctions.

The United States and others are reviewing policy towards the former Burma after years of sanctions and trade embargoes failed to get the junta to improve its human rights record or relax its grip on power.

U.S. President Obama has offered Myanmar the prospect of better ties with Washington if it pursued democratic reform and freed political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.
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