Myanmar talks possible; protesters march in London

YANGON (Reuters) - The door to talks between Myanmar’s ruling generals and detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared to be ajar on Saturday as Western powers pressured the junta to begin a dialogue with the opposition.

People pray as they demonstrate in support of democracy in Myanmar, near the embassy of China in Paris, October 6, 2007. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, or NLD, who initially rejected the junta’s offer of talks as unrealistic, said it could clear the way for discussions about discussions.

“We can say it is a significant improvement on the past situation. They have never committed themselves to talking to her,” Nyan Win said.

Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who outraged the world by sending in soldiers to crush peaceful monk-led demonstrations last week, offered direct talks if Suu Kyi abandoned “confrontation” and her support for sanctions and “utter devastation.”

Myanmar analysts caution against optimism as hopes of change in the past have been dashed so often in 45 years of military rule, punctuated by the army killing 3,000 people in crushing an uprising in 1988.

Two years later, the NLD won a landslide election victory that the generals ignored. Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the past 18 years in detention.

A global day of demonstrations against the junta’s actions failed to spark in Asia on Saturday, although several thousand people marched through central London waving placards and wearing red headbands to show solidarity with detained monks.

On the way, they dropped petals into the River Thames and tied ribbons and robes to the gates at the entrance of the road to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Downing Street office. Britain is the former colonial power in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

A rally in Tokyo was canceled and one in Bangkok attracted only around 100 people. Dozens of Buddhist monks and women demonstrated outside the Myanmar and Chinese embassies in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

In Australia, 250 mainly Burmese expatriates marched to the Sydney Opera House and 200 protesters gathered in Melbourne.

“We are united in opposition to the military dictatorship in Burma. It’s time for the regime to start reconciliation,” said Sydney organizer Maung Maung Than.


U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, speaking to reporters after briefing the Security Council on Friday on his four-day visit to Myanmar, said he saw a “window of opportunity” for talks between the junta and Suu Kyi, who met Gambari twice.

“From my own conversation, she appears to be very anxious to have a proper dialogue” provided there were no preconditions, Gambari said.

There has been no word from Suu Kyi, 62, who is confined to her house in Yangon without a telephone and requires official permission, rarely granted, to receive visitors.

But, in what appeared to another move aimed at deflecting international anger, state television broadcast rare footage of Suu Kyi for the first time in four years on Friday night.

It referred to her respectfully as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a departure from past practice when her father’s name, Aung San, was dropped to deny her link to the nation’s independence hero.

Official newspapers on Saturday quoted a senior junta official as telling Gambari that “anti-government groups should compromise and adjust their policies.”

Britain, France and the United States -- which is pushing for tougher sanctions against the junta -- circulated a draft statement to the U.N. Security Council that demanded the junta free political detainees and talk to the opposition.

A statement has no legal force but if a strongly worded text were approved by China, until now Myanmar’s closest ally on the council, it would send a forceful message to the junta.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, said he was hopeful of international action given the strong consensus at the Human Rights Council, where even China and Russia agreed to a condemnatory resolution.

Pinheiro has been denied a visa to visit Myanmar for four years but he said he was still hoping to go and that there were positive signs despite the resistance of China and Russia against Security Council action.

“I can’t guarantee that something positive will happen but I think that we are living at a moment where things are moving and perhaps this famous ‘international community’ will have some effect,” he said.

The junta says 10 people were killed in the crackdown but Western governments say the toll is likely far higher.

“We believe there have been many more killings than the regime admit,” Britain’s Brown said. “And we have very grave concerns about hundreds, possibly thousands, of monks, nuns and others who have simply disappeared.”

Brown met a delegation of Myanmar democracy campaigners as part of the global day of protests.

“I want the EU to impose further sanctions on the regime to make it absolutely clear we will not tolerate the abuses that have taken place,” he told the delegation.