Rangoon junta holds meeting with Suu Kyi

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BURMA'S military leaders, taking what may be an initial step out of international isolation, yesterday met their leading opponent, Aung San Suu Kyi, for the first time since they put her under house arrest in Rangoon more than five years ago.

A smiling Ms Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent resistance to military rule, was shown on Burmese television meeting Than Shwe, chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc). The powerful military intelligence chief and Slorc secretary, Khin Nyunt, was also reported to have attended. No details were released, but a Western official said the encounter was the most concrete sign for several years that the Burmese authorities were seeking a way out of diplomatic quarantine.

The two sides were brought together by Rewata Dhamma, a Buddhist monk based in Birmingham, who was asked by the regime earlier this year to act as a go-between. Dr Dhamma, 65, a family friend of Ms Suu Kyi, said yesterday he was 'very happy', and predicted another meeting in a few days. Burmese exiles and Western diplomats also welcomed the meeting, but warned that it could be no more than a short-term manoeuvre by the Slorc to head off criticism in the UN General Assembly next month.

Since the military massacred thousands of demonstrators in 1988, imprisoned Ms Suu Kyi and ignored the results of a general election in 1990, which her party won by a landslide, Burma has been regularly condemned for torture, forced labour, arbitrary imprisonment and oppression of minorities. However, a dialogue between the Slorc and Ms Suu Kyi would remove the main obstacle to acceptance by the international community, which is beginning to move towards limited engagement with Rangoon.