Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Myanmar junta names liaison to Aung San Suu Kyi

19 minutes ago

AFP Photo:

Myanmese activists shout slogans while holding a picture of detained democracy leader

YANGON, Myanmar - The ruling junta appointed a Cabinet official Monday to coordinate contacts with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a move that comes with Myanmar under intense international pressure to enter talks with the democracy movement.

Deputy Labor Minister Aung Kyi, a retired major general, was named to the post of "liaison minister," state radio and television said Monday night.

On Tuesday, the junta said it hoped to achieve "smooth relations" with Suu Kyi. The New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece of the junta, printed a brief official announcement on its front page saying that Kyi had been appointed "minister for relations" to coordinate contacts with Suu Kyi, the country's democracy icon.
The appointment was suggested by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his visit to Myanmar earlier this month, the statement said. It added that the junta had accepted the idea "in respect of Gambari's recommendation and in view of smooth relations with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi."
Aung Kyi's exact duties were not detailed, and the announcement did not say when he might meet with the 62-year-old Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years without trial.
But it appeared Aung Kyi would coordinate all of Suu Kyi's contacts with both the regime and the United Nations, which is seeking to end the political deadlock between democracy advocates and a military that has ruled since 1962.
Aung Kyi has a reputation among foreign diplomats, U.N. officials and aid groups as being relatively accessible and reasonable compared to top junta leaders, who are highly suspicious of outsiders. He has had the delicate task of dealing with the International Labor Organization, which accuses the junta of using forced labor.
The government announced last week that the junta's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, was willing to meet personally with Suu Kyi, but only if she met certain conditions, including renouncing support for economic sanctions by foreign countries against the junta.
It remains unknown if Suu Kyi would accept the offer, which also called on her to give up what the junta said were her efforts backing "confrontation" and "utter devastation." The regime accuses her and her party of working with other nations to sabotage its own plans for a phased return to democracy.
Than Shwe has only met with Suu Kyi once before, in 2002, and the talks quickly broke down.
The appointment of a liaison officer was suggested by Gambari during his visit to Myanmar last week, the announcement on state media said. Gambari met with both top junta officials and Suu Kyi.
Gambari's trip to the Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma came after troops quelled democracy protests with gunfire. The regime said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks who were leading the demonstrations.
The government has continued to round up suspected activists, although some people have been released.
Security continued to ease in Yangon, the country's biggest city. Some roadblocks were removed and visitors began trickling back to the heavily guarded Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, the starting and finishing points for many of the protests.
But some residents have engaged in a low-key resistance to the military in recent days, harassing soldiers by tossing rocks at them at night, student activists claimed Monday.
They said troops had responded by detaining suspects and even suspects' relatives, including children, said the activists, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of arrest.
Protests erupted Aug. 19 over the government raising fuel prices, but anger mushroomed into broad-based marches by tens of thousands demanding democratic reforms.
On Monday, the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar said protesters could achieve their demands — including Suu Kyi's release — by following the military government's own seven-step "road map" agenda for restoring democracy.
"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 English-language paper said, using the polite term for addressing older women in front of Suu Kyi's name.
"When the state constitution is approved, the fulfillment of the three demands will be within reach," said the commentary in New Light of Myanmar, which is a mouthpiece for the government but often represents extreme points of view that are not official policy.
The road map process is supposed to culminate in a general election at an unspecified date in the future. But so far only the first stage — drawing up guidelines for a new constitution — has been completed, and government critics say the convention that drafted them was stage-managed by the military.
Drafting the constitution is supposed to be the next stage, and the document would then be put to a national referendum. The previous constitution was suspended in 1988 when the military crushed a democracy uprising by killing as many as 3,000 people.
The junta then allowed elections in 1990, but nullified the vote after Suu Kyi's party won.