US diplomats meet the opposition

US diplomats on Tuesday met with officials from Burma’s three main opposition parties in Rangoon as complaints of surveillance by Burmese intelligence emerge.

Four US State Department staff gathered at the Rangoon house of Washington’s ambassador to Burma to meet with candidates from the Democratic Party (DP), the National Democratic Force (NDF) and the Union Democracy Party (UDP). The three are perhaps the most vocal of opposition and ‘third force’ parties contesting the 7 November polls.

“We told them that we were being followed by the government intelligence officials and the people we visited were also questioned by their township authorities for details of how many of us visited them and what kind of documents we gave them,” said Than Than Nu, general-secretary of the DP and daughter of Burma’s first civilian prime minister, U Nu.

“We told [the diplomats] that this is making people afraid [to have connections with the party].” She added that the party, which is set to field around 60 candidates, “will not have the level of freedom of democratic countries as our elections are being held by a military government.”

The US embassy declined to comment on whether there was any political motive behind meeting with the opposition. The Obama administration has roundly condemned Burma’s first elections in 20 years, and maintains tough sanctions on the pariah.

The UDP meanwhile has said it will not broadcast its campaign speech on television if, as is widely expected, any censoring is undertaken by the junta. According to election laws, all manuscripts for campaign broadcasts must submitted to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division for vetting a week before going on air, and any material deemed subversive will be taken out.

“We have to submit the points that we are going to state before they can be broadcast,” said UDP vice chairman U Htay. “If our statement is to be censored, we have decided not to broadcast it. This is the decision of our Central Executive Committee today.”

Of the opposition and ‘third force’ parties competing in the polls, the NDF is leading the way in numbers of candidates running, with 161 put forward. The UDP, on the other, will only field three. The NDF, which is formed of former members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), is cast as the main opposition party following the NLD’s dissolution.

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