U.S. Diplomat Talks With Myanmar Official

The top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar met Friday with a representative of the country's military government in a rare dialogue a day after the junta offered to meet with detained democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Acting Ambassador Shari Villarosa met with Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint in the remote jungle capital of Naypitaw, according to a senior embassy official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Villarosa has been a vocal critic of the junta's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters last week. During her visit, she was expected to repeat the U.S. view that the regime must meet with democratic opposition groups and "stop the iron crackdown" on peaceful demonstrators, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

Hoping to deflect outrage over soldiers gunning down protesters, Myanmar's junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe announced that he was willing to talk with Suu Kyi, the democratic opposition leader - but only if she stops calling for international sanctions.

The surprise move appeared aimed at staving off economic sanctions. Diplomats and opposition figures expressed skepticism that the offer to meet Suu Kyi was genuine.

Many governments have urged stern U.N. Security Council action against Myanmar, but members China – which enjoys good relations with Myanmar - and Russia have ruled out any council action, saying the crisis does not threaten international peace and security.

"This issue does not belong to the Security Council," China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said Thursday. "These problems still, we believe, are basically internal."

State media in Myanmar gave new figures Thursday for the number of people arrested during last week's bloody assault by troops. The reports said nearly 2,100 people had been detained, with almost 700 already released.

The government has said 10 people were killed when security forces broke up the mass demonstrations, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of Buddhist monks who were leading the protests.

Philippine Ambassador Noel Cabrera described the mood in the country as "quite dark, uncertain and depressed," noting that Myanmar remained cut off from the Internet and strategically placed

troops were on standby. Reaction to Than Shwe's offer of talks was mixed.

Thein Lwin, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, scoffed at the general's conditions.

Suu Kyi "does not have confrontational attitude, nor does she encourage sanctions," he said. Asked if he was hopeful that she would accept the junta's terms for talks, he replied: "We'll have to wait and see."

Democracy activists living in exile in Thailand were also not very impressed by the offer.

"This is just PR ahead of the Security Council meeting," said Maung Maung, a member of a self-styled Myanmar government in exile in Bangkok.

"If they really want to talk, she needs to be released first so she has freedom of association and freedom of speech to engage in a dialogue," he told reporters.

Suu Kyi, who has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her democracy campaign. Her party won elections in 1990 but the junta refused to accept the results.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current junta came to power after routing a 1988 pro-democracy uprising in bloodshed that killed at least 3,000 people.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: