Suu Kyi holds rare party meeting

Dec 16, 2009 (AFP), Burma’s junta allowed detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to meet with three elderly senior members of her party Wednesday in a rare concession by the military regime.

The democracy icon was taken to a state guesthouse in Yangon for the talks with 92-year-old party chairman Aung Shwe, secretary Lwin, 85, and executive committee member Lun Tin, 89, all of whom are in poor health.

"The authorities allowed us to meet Aung San Suu Kyi privately at the guesthouse. She paid her respects to us and gave presents and fruit baskets," said Lwin after the meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes.

"I had not met her since 2003," he told reporters. "Aung San Suu Kyi asked us to allow her to reorganise the central executive committee. We accepted her request," he added. Most of the party’s current 11-member committee are very old.

In a letter to Burma’s military strongman Than Shwe last month, Suu Kyi requested she be allowed to visit the three men.

"Daw Suu accepted the authorities’ suggestion to meet them all in one place for security reasons," her lawyer and NLD spokesman Nyan Win told reporters on Tuesday. Daw is a term of respect in Burma.

The visit followed a meeting between Suu Kyi and junta liaison officer Aung Kyi last Wednesday – their third since the beginning of October – where they discussed her letter to Than Shwe, Nyan Win said.

In the correspondence, she also asked to meet with the junta chief himself and said she wanted to cooperate with the government to get sanctions against Burma lifted for the benefit of the country.

"Daw Suu is also expecting the rest of her requests to be fulfilled. She’s optimistic about her letter," Nyan Win said.

Suu Kyi has been locked up for 14 of the past 20 years and was ordered in August to spend another 18 months in detention after being convicted over an incident in which an American man swam to her house.

The country’s supreme court has agreed to hear a final appeal against the 64-year-old’s house arrest next Monday, after a lower court rejected an initial appeal in October.

The extension of her detention after a trial at Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison sparked international outrage as it effectively keeps her off the stage for elections promised by the regime some time in 2010.

If the polls go ahead they will be the first since 1990, when the junta refused to recognise the NLD’s landslide victory.

In another letter to Than Shwe in September, Suu Kyi offered suggestions for getting Western sanctions lifted and requested a meeting with senior Western diplomats in Rangoon, which she was also granted.

In recent months the United States, followed by the European Union, has shifted towards a policy of greater engagement with Burma – which has been under military rule since 1962 – with sanctions failing to bear fruit.

In November the regime allowed Suu Kyi to make a rare appearance in front of the media after she held talks with US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the most senior US official to visit Burma in 14 years.

Despite an apparent shift in relations between Suu Kyi and the junta, state media last week accused her of being "insincere" and "dishonest" in sending letters to Than Shwe and accused her of leaking them to foreign media.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said her change of tack after years of favouring sanctions was "highly questionable".

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