Burma democracy leader Suu Kyi allowed to meet party colleagues

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The Independent Online

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader, has been allowed to meet the other leaders of her party, the National League for Democracy, for the first time in more than three years.

During yesterday's hour-long meeting at a government guest house, from which the press and public were excluded, she told her NLD colleagues that she was "very optimistic" about the prospects of a dialogue between the democracy forces and the junta, which the United Nations has been attempting to broker.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winner, whose party won a landslide victory in a general election in 1990 which has never been honoured and who has been incarcerated in her home for 12 of the past 18 years, looked "fit, well and energetic, like before," according to a party spokesman, Nyan Win. "She is full of ideas," he said.

In a public statement read out in Singapore by the UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who persuaded the military junta to concede to the meeting, she said: "In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to co-operate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success."

Nyan Win said Ms Suu Kyi told her fellow party leaders that the government's crackdown on demonstrations in September had been "devastating for the NLD, the government and the people. She said a healing process, such as the release of political prisoners, is essential."

Despite being allowed to meet her colleagues and the general appointed to liaise between her and the regime, Ms Suu Kyi is still under house arrest, and returned to her dilapidated and heavily guarded villa after yesterday's meetings.

There was a strong sense of déjà vu about the regime's concessions. In 2002, Ms Suu Kyi was released from years of house arrest and allowed to resume her work with the NLD, and to address political meetings. But despite strong hopes and forceful efforts by the UN, talks with the junta never got off the ground. The following year she was nearly assassinated when a convoy in which she was travelling was ambushed by pro-government thugs. She was returned to the solitude of her villa, where she has been locked up ever since.

One Rangoon-based diplomat commented: "There's no doubt in my mind that this regime has no intention of co-operating with Gambari [of the UN] or of starting a process of genuine political dialogue. It's beyond them."