YANGON, May 1 – UN chief Ban Ki-moon met Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi Tuesday for talks about the country’s political future after a surprise climbdown by the Nobel laureate in her boycott of parliament.
The talks at the opposition leader’s lakeside mansion in Yangon, where she was locked up by the former junta for much of the past two decades, come a day after Ban became the first visiting foreigner to address Myanmar’s legislature.
It is the first meeting between Suu Kyi and Ban, who left frustrated after a previous visit in 2009 when the generals who ruled the nation for decades refused to allow him to see the veteran activist while in detention.
In a landmark speech to parliament on Monday following talks with President Thein Sein, the UN chief paid tribute to Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party for participating in recent by-elections.
“For many years you displayed resilience and fortitude that for generations have distinguished the Myanmar people,” he said.
Ban also welcomed moves by the international community to reward sweeping changes in the country since the end of direct army rule last year, and called for the West to go further in easing or lifting sanctions.
His address was not witnessed by Suu Kyi and other newly-elected members of her party, after they last week delayed their debut in the legislature in a row over the swearing-in oath.
But in an uncharacteristic retreat, she announced on Monday that her party would take its seats in parliament — dominated by the military and its political allies — and pledge to “safeguard” the army-created constitution.
“We have decided to comply at this juncture, because we do not want a political problem or tension,” she said, ending the first rift with the government since she won a parliamentary seat in historic April 1 by-elections.
Suu Kyi is now expected to take the oath on Wednesday, according to NLD sources.
“The reason we accept it, firstly is the desire of the people,” she said.
“Our voters voted for us because they want to see us in parliament.”
The democracy icon has said one of her priorities as a politician is to push for an amendment of the 2008 constitution, under which one quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for unelected military officials.
Ban is the latest in a string of top foreign visitors to Myanmar amid a thaw in the army-dominated nation’s relations with the West.
Addressing parliament, Ban hailed the “vision, leadership and courage” of Thein Sein, who has ushered in a slew of reforms in the last year including welcoming Suu Kyi’s party into the mainstream and freeing political prisoners.
Last week, the European Union responded to what it said were “historic changes” by suspending for one year a wide range of trade, economic and individual sanctions, although it left intact an arms embargo.
Canada and Australia have also recently eased punitive measures and Japan waived $3.7 billion of Myanmar’s debt.
But the United States last week ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions on Myanmar, saying it wanted to preserve leverage to push the regime on an end to ethnic violence, which has marred the regime’s reform image.