Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned Burmese opposition leader, has been granted a rare meeting with western diplomats in the capital Rangoon.
Ms Suu Kyi, who was sentenced to a further 18 months house arrest in August, was allowed to meet diplomats from Australia, Britain and the US in a government guest house, but strict preconditions imposed by the military government limited the scope of the conversation.
Along with the three diplomats and Ms Suu Kyi, two representatives of the Burmese foreign ministry attended the hour-long meeting.
“It was a very interesting meeting, very focused on the subject at hand, which was sanctions. Daw Suu Kyi was very interested in all the details,” Andrew Heyn, the British ambassador, told the Financial Times.
He said that Ms Suu Kyi was healthy and in good spirits.
“She was very clear that it was a fact-finding session and she made absolutely explicit that she had not reached a policy on sanctions,” he said, although Ms Suu Kyi did ask under what conditions western nations might lift sanctions, a topic that brought the fate of the 2,100 political prisoners held in Burmese jails into the conversation along with free and fair elections next year and dialogue with Burma’s ethnic minorities.
The western world has imposed increasingly harsh sanctions on the generals who run Burma. The US has severe restrictions on doing business with Burma, while the European Union has targeted their measures at specific members of the regime, their families and business associates.
The US has recently undertaken a major review of its policies concerning Burma and concluded that although it will leave its sanctions in place, it will end the country’s diplomatic isolation, a measure that many policymakers in Washington believe has served little purpose but to push the country into the arms of China.
Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in Burma’s last elections, held in 1990. She has spent almost 14 of the intervening 19 years under house arrest, and analysts have said that her latest sentence, imposed after an eccentric American tourist named John Yettaw swam the lake that backs onto her house, is designed to keep her out of circulation until after next year’s elections.
Under a constitution passed by the government last year, the military is guaranteed 25 per cent of the seats in parliament and a hedge of regulations would make it all but impossible for anyone who was not a serving or former officer to lead the country. Rights organisations and exiled Burmese have condemned the elections and said that given the restrictions already imposed, any call for them to be free and fair misses the point.
Despite her prolonged isolation, Ms Suu Kyi remains the junta’s most formidable opponent. She is the daughter of Aung San, the country’s revered independence hero, and has acted as a lightning rod for waves of discontent with the brutal and economically inept rule of the generals.
But she has recently reached out to the regime, offering to discuss lending her moral authority to the drive to lift a catalogue of sanctions which are economically crippling and personally embarrassing for a military that still struggles for legitimacy 47 years after it toppled the last civilian government.
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