Burma’s PM ‘sees a role’ for Suu Kyi

Abhisit heartened by hope for reconciliation
CHA-AM Bangkok Post: Asia’s leaders are encouraged by comments by the Burmese prime minister that he sees a role for democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in fostering reconciliation ahead of the poll set for next year, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says.

The comments yesterday by Prime Minister Thein Sein came after his government recently allowed Mrs Suu Kyi to hold a rare meeting with a government minister and the US sought to engage the regime.

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, 64, was placed under a further 18 months’ house arrest in August, effectively barring her from taking part in elections promised by the ruling generals next year.

Gen Thein Sein did not mention Mrs Suu Kyi by name at the meeting of Southeast and East Asian leaders yesterday but he clearly referred to her.

“He briefed us that some of the dialogues stay in place,” Mr Abhisit said after the meeting. “And we are optimistic that she can contribute to the process of reconciliation.”

Gen Thein Sein confirmed that the election would be acceptable, and Mr Abhisit said other leaders expected to see the poll as inclusive as possible.

He did not say if Gen Thein Sein indicated whether this meant Mrs Suu Kyi would be allowed to take part in the electoral process.

The Burmese prime minister was quoted by Japanese officials as saying that the conditions of Mrs Suu Kyi’s detention could be relaxed if she behaved.

She was convicted in August over an incident in which an American man swam to her lakeside house. Mr Abhisit said Asean was pleased the US, which maintains strict sanctions against Burma, was now following its lead in trying to engage the junta.

“The one thing we all agreed on is that we welcome signs of further engagement in response to some developments in Burma,” he said. “Asean has always argued that engagement is the right approach.”

Rights groups earlier criticised Asean for failing to mention Mrs Suu Kyi in its final summit declaration and for devoting just three lines to the military-ruled nation’s political situation in the nine-page document.

But Mr Abhisit denied the grouping had softened its stand on Burma, having previously issued direct appeals for Mrs Suu Kyi’s release. The group has long faced Western criticism for failing to take on the junta.

“It is not true,” Mr Abhisit said. “It was discussed. Everybody agrees that we should help Burma move forward in completing their road map.”

Burma announced a “road map to democracy” in 2008, starting with a controversial constitution that was forced through just days after a deadly cyclone and culminating in the elections.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said recent engagement between Washington and Burma’s ruling generals was encouraging.

“There was an atmosphere of hope that the Burma leadership is moving towards normalising relations with the United States, that they are working towards national reconciliation,” Mr Singh said. “That’s what we all welcome, that the next year’s elections should see the reconciliation of the various segments of Burma society.”

A US delegation is set to make a rare “fact-finding” mission to Burma later this month after the administration of President Barack Obama announced it would engage with the junta.

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