Myanmar junta names negotiator for Suu Kyi talks


  • World
  • Monday, 08 Oct 2007

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's military junta has appointed a deputy minister to negotiate with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the regime's offer of direct talks, state television said on Monday. 

Aung Kyi, a major general who became deputy labour minister last year, would "make contact and deal with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the future," MRTV said, without giving further details. 

Activists carry a poster of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally outside the China embassy in East Timor October 8, 2007. Myanmar's military junta suggested on Monday Suu Kyi will remain under house arrest until a new constitution is approved -- a dim and distant prospect, according to most analysts. (REUTERS/Lirio Da Fonseca)

After the largest anti-junta protests in nearly 20 years, Senior General Than Shwe, whose loathing for Suu Kyi is well known, offered direct talks if she abandoned "confrontation" and support for sanctions and "utter devastation." 

There was no reaction from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy to Aung Kyi's appointment. But NLD spokesman Nyan Win has said Than Shwe's offer could lead to talks about talks. 

Analysts caution against optimism as hopes of change in the past have been dashed so often. 

"It's too early to assess this gambit by the regime," a retired professor said. "It comes at a time of mounting pressure from the international community. We need to wait for further movement." 

There has been no word from Suu Kyi, 62, who has spent 12 of the past 18 years in detention and is confined to her house in Yangon without a telephone and requiring official permission, granted rarely, to receive visitors. 

The New Light of Myanmar, the general's official mouthpiece, suggested on Monday that Suu Kyi would remain under house arrest until a new constitution was approved -- a dim and distant prospect, according to most analysts. 

It also gave short shrift to the demands of the thousands who joined last month's protests crushed by the regime. 

"The three demands of the protesters -- lowering consumer prices, release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners, and national reconciliation -- cannot be satisfied through protest," the paper said in a commentary. 

"Now, those responsible are making arrangements to draft the state constitution and collect the list of voters," it added. "When the state constitution is approved, the fulfillment of the three demands will be within reach." 

DISCIPLINED DEMOCRACY 

Holding a referendum on a new constitution is the fourth stage in a seven-step "roadmap to democracy". 

For Suu Kyi, the omens are not good. 

Stage One of the roadmap -- a National Convention to draw up the "detailed basic principles" of the charter -- took 14 years. 

Furthermore, Stage Two -- "step-by-step implementation of the process necessary for the emergence of a genuine and disciplined democratic state" -- is so unclear few know what it means, let alone when it can be completed. 

Stage Three is drafting the constitution, a process that many thought the National Convention was meant to have been doing for the last 14 years of on-off meetings, most of which have been boycotted by Suu Kyi's party. 

The NLD won a massive election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the army, which first seized power in 1962. 

Most Western governments dismissed the convention as a sham to cement the generals' grip on power. 

Snippets of the "detailed basic principles" of the charter appearing in state media point to little transfer of power to a civilian administration or autonomy for the former Burma's 100-plus ethnic minorities. 

The commander-in-chief of the army will be the most powerful man in the country under the constitutional guidelines agreed at the national convention, with the power to appoint the ministers of defence, interior and border affairs. 

He will also be able to assume power "in times of emergency". 

The junta has cut security in Yangon steadily since it sent in soldiers 10 days ago to end to the biggest pro-democracy protests since 1988. Official media say 10 people were killed, although Western governments say the toll is likely to have been higher. 

In 1988, up to 3,000 people are thought to have died in a crackdown over several weeks on protests led by students, as well as the Buddhist monks who spearheaded last month's marches which filled five city blocks at their height. 

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