YANGON, Feb 2 – Myanmar’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday met with UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari after refusing to see him during his last visit to the military-ruled nation, witnesses said.,
The meeting marked the first time that Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate who has spent most of the past 19 years under house arrest, had spoken with someone from outside Myanmar since she met Gambari last March.
The UN envoy returned to the former Burma at the weekend in a renewed effort to push the country’s ruling generals, who have been in power for nearly five decades, towards democratic reform.
Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to leave her lakeside Yangon home to meet Gambari and senior members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) for one hour at a state-run guest house, witnesses said.
Officials had earlier confirmed the meeting would take place.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past 19 years under house arrest, refused to meet Gambari on his last visit to Myanmar in August 2008, apparently after he failed to push the junta into any reforms.
The UN envoy is not expected to meet the reclusive head of state Senior General Than Shwe during his four-day trip, during which the United Nations said he hopes to have "meaningful discussions with all concerned".
A key issue likely to be raised is the recent jailing of about 270 activists including monks, student leaders and NLD members.
The prison terms were largely handed down for involvement in monk-led anti-junta protests in mid-2007 and for helping victims of Cyclone Nargis last May.
Amnesty International says there are already more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar.
Gambari has so far met several officials including Information Minister Kyaw Hsan and Foreign Minister Nyan Win in the country’s main city Yangon.
On Sunday, he met Aung Kyi, whose appointment to coordinate the junta’s contacts with Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2007 was seen as a sop to the West after the violent suppression of the anti-junta protests a month earlier.
Gambari was due to travel later Monday to Labutta in the country’s southwest delta region, which was devastated by Cyclone Nargis.
Aung Naing Oo, an independent Myanmar analyst based in Thailand, said little political progress could be expected from Monday’s talks but they would give Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters a chance to hear her opinions.
"When it comes to political issues it’s General Than Shwe who calls the shots so… however significant it (the meeting) may be, you cannot expect too much," he said, adding that "instant dialogue with the military" was unlikely.
"It’s good that they have met. At least the UN knows what she’s thinking about, or what the NLD has been thinking about because it has been a big question mark for the past year," he added.
Aung Naing Oo said the supporters of the 63-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi would be particularly keen to hear her views on whether or not the NLD should contest elections planned for 2010 in which she is barred from standing.
The junta has in recent months been forging ahead with its "Roadmap to Democracy," which it says will lead to multi-party elections in 2010 but which dissidents deride as a sham as the democracy icon will not be included.
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962. Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to an election victory in 1990, but the junta ignored the results and has kept her under house arrest for most of the intervening years.