Myanmar's Pro-Democracy Leader Playing Role

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with the country's military regime almost two weeks ago, for the first time in nearly two months. The Nobel Peace Laureate has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 17 years in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's report on another Asian government that's trying to keep control. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been battling domestic troubles since a wave of street protests last fall.

Today, U.S. officials, yet again, urged Myanmar's military rulers to open a dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition. Earlier this month, the military junta made a gesture toward that when they agreed to a rare meeting with the country's pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Zack Baddorf reports.

ZACK BADDORF: Little is known about the meeting, the fourth between Aung San Suu Kyi and military juntas since pro-democracy protest led by the country's revered monks erupted on the streets here in September. Even members of her political party, The National League for Democracy, don't know what was said at the talks between their leader and government Labor Minister Aung Kyi. Still the party spokesman Nyan Win said it's a positive sign.

Mr. NYAN WIN (Spokesperson, The National League for Democracy): We need to talk. Without talking there is no progress.

BADDORF: Nyan Win said he hopes the Myanmar government is taking the talks seriously, but the top American diplomat in Myanmar said the meeting was probably not much more than show.

Charge d'Affaires Shari Villarosa said she's very disappointed that the government hasn't met more frequently with internal political actors.

Ambassador SHARI VILLAROSA (U.S. Charge D'Affaires, Myanmar): Their record has been to do the absolute minimum to get the rest of the world off their backs.

BADDORF: The world may have turned its attention away from Myanmar after last year's dramatic street protests that left at least 31 dead and 74 missing. But in monasteries in the country's second largest city of Mandalay, monks are meeting secretly and planning new protests for mid-April to coincide with Myanmar's New Year's celebrations.

One of the Buddhist organizers says the monks will make the demonstrations larger and more effective this year by incorporating student groups and other organizations.

(Soundbite of rickshaw horns)

Rickshaw driver Sun Nyi(ph) will likely join in the new marches too, despite being beaten, arrested and imprisoned for a month after participating in the last ones. A former monk himself, the 26-year-old university graduate protested primarily for religious, not political, reasons.

Mr. SUN NYI (Rickshaw Driver; Former Monk): I marching for my religion, for monk. Because the monks are my religious people, right. If they shoot - if they kill the monks, I'm just going to die for my monks.

BADDORF: Sun Nyi says he does want a changing government, and despite having signed a document in jail saying he won't join in future protests, he will.

BADDORF: Again, the U.S. State Department's Shari Villarosa.

Ambassador VILLAROSA: I'm not good at predicting the future, but I am very confident that change will come to Burma - it's long overdue here. You have a deteriorating economy. You have unhappy people. So the source of their power is getting more and more fragile. Change will come.

BADDORF: For NPR News, I'm Zack Baddorf.

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