YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi met President Thein Sein Friday, the first meeting between the two and the latest olive branch from the army-backed regime that came to power this year after five decades of direct military rule.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent 15 years in detention under the former military rulers for spearheading Myanmar’s campaign for democracy, flew to the capital, Naypyitaw and meet Thein Sein, formerly a top general in the military regime, at his presidential palace.
“Thein Sein cordially explained the activities the government had been carrying out for the interest of the people and the country,” state-controlled MRTV said in its evening news bulletin.
“It is learnt that the president and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi discussed in a very cordial and friendly atmosphere the possibilities of cooperating, after setting aside the differences in opinions, in matters of common interests that will really benefit the country and the people.”
Independent media were not permitted to attend the meeting, which was arranged at short notice.
Suu Kyi’s political organization and former party, the National League for Democracy, did not comment on what was discussed.
It was her first visit to Naypyitaw, a city secretly built five years ago on a mountain plateau about 205 miles north of Myanmar’s old capital and biggest city, Yangon.
Suu Kyi, 66, was released when her latest stint of house arrest expired last November, just after elections that were widely criticized as a sham, since the army made sure it dominated parliament and the new cabinet.
Even in detention, the charismatic, Oxford-educated daughter of Myanmar’s late independence hero, General Aung San, was the figurehead of the country’s fight against military dictatorship.
Thein Sein, who is also 66, took office on March 30. A former prime minister who was the international face of the army junta, he is regarded as one of the more moderate members of a new government that contains hardliners opposed to engagement with Suu Kyi.
The military’s unbroken, 49-year grip on power officially ended in March, when the ruling State Peace and Development Council made way for a nominally civilian government led mostly by retired generals.
The relationship between Suu Kyi and the military has long been frosty but the new government has in the past few weeks taken steps toward engagement by arranging two meetings with Labor Minister Aung Kyi.
There have been other signs of change in recent weeks.
Thein Sein called Thursday for several armed ethnic rebel groups to hold peace talks with the government to end decades of hostilities.
The government has also invited the International Monetary Fund to look at possible reforms to its currency system [ID:nL4E7JJ1WX] and a series of meetings have taken place between senior government officials and Western delegations.
Most analysts believe the openness being shown by Myanmar’s leaders, who until last year were part of one of the world’s most reclusive and oppressive regimes, is aimed in part at improving their image abroad with a view to ending decades of Western sanctions and consolidating power at home.
However, Western countries insist embargoes will remain in place until an estimated 2,100 political prisoners are released.
Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Lane