Suu Kyi ready to talk, says Buddhist monk

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The Independent Online
BURMA'S imprisoned symbol of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in Rangoon for more than five years, may soon negotiate with her captors, according to a Birmingham-based Buddhist monk who has been asked by the military regime to act as go-between.

Rewata Dhamma, who founded a monastery in Edgbaston in 1975, is a family friend of Ms Suu Kyi. He is the only Burmese unconnected with the regime to be allowed to visit the Nobel Peace Prize winner since she was confined to her home in July 1989. After more than four hours of talks with her and meetings with the military-run State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc), the monk is urging negotiations as soon as possible.

'My aim is just to get them together, not to get involved myself,' the monk said. 'The Slorc says it is working towards a democratic process. I don't know if that's true, since I don't live in Burma any more, but I believe that after they have met Suu Kyi once or twice, they may be ready to release her, possibly even before the end of the year.'

Western diplomats, initially suspicious of the monk, accept he is genuine. Shortly after his appearance on the scene, the Slorc spoke of meeting Ms Suu Kyi. One diplomat said talks might take place in the next week or two, 'and that would be probably the most significant thing to happen in Burma for five years'.

Although he warned that a solution is unlikely, he said negotiations might raise the possibility of ending the violent stalemate that has persisted in Burma since the military killed thousands of demonstrators in 1988, detained Ms Suu Kyi the following year and disregarded the results of elections in 1990, which were won by her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Ms Suu Kyi, 49, is revered as the daughter of Aung San, Burma's independence figurehead, and she remains an obstacle to military plans. She has refused offers of release if she agrees to leave the country. Dr Dhamma first met Ms Suu Kyi in India, when she was aged 11. Later they both settled in England, where she married an Oxford don, Michael Aris. They saw each other frequently. The monk's connection with a former prime minister,

U Nu, made it unsafe for him to return home for nearly 30 years, and he became a British citizen.

Earlier this year, however, Dr Dhamma was granted a visa to Burma. In May he was visited in Rangoon by Khin Nyunt, the military intelligence chief and a leader of the Slorc. 'We talked for two hours and I explained the views of Western governments about Burma,' Dr Dhamma said. 'I also urged him to release Suu Kyi.'

The monk returned in August and had another meeting with General Khin Nyunt, in which he asked to see Ms Suu Kyi. Through a liaison officer, she invited him to lunch at her lakeside home. 'We talked for three hours,' Dr Dhamma said. 'She was cheerful and well and very pleased to see me, because I am Burmese and she could open her heart. She told me foreigners don't understand - with me, it's a family affair.'