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In a step toward re-engaging with Burma's military government, senior United States diplomats have held talks with Burmese officials, including the prime minister. The U.S. diplomats also are expected to meet with Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi during their visit.
In the highest-level visit to Burma in more than a decade, United States diplomats Tuesday met with Prime Minister Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw.
The visit marks a major step by the U.S. toward re-engaging with Burma's government, after years of isolating the government.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, and his deputy Scot Marceil also are to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.
Human rights groups say the diplomats need to press the military to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, as a step toward further engagement.
Sunai Pasuk is the representative in Thailand for Human Rights Watch.
"The U.S. should give very clear signals that simply a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi is not enough - it is good but not enough," said Sunai. "There needs to be a definite assurance from the Burmese government that political prisoners - all of them including Aung San Suu Kyi - will be released immediately. This message needs to be repeated in the strongest terms. It is not negotiable."
The U.S. and European countries have long imposed sanctions against the military government because of its rights abuses. Human rights groups say the government holds more than 2,000 political prisoners.
Sunai says the military will seek to control relations with the U.S. so it does not appear it is being dictated to by outside forces.
"The idea for the Burmese government is to show that they are willing to give certain concessions on their own terms; it is not the Western countries; it is not the U.S., it is not the U.N. [United Nations] or ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] who will dictate the terms of engagement, it is still the Burmese government who will decide when where to meet and what will be achieved as a result of each meeting," said Sunai.
Aung San Suu Kyi has welcomed the change in U.S. policy, which her National League for Democracy Party says opens the way for unconditional dialogue with the military.
Prime Minister Thein Sein recently indicated the government may lift some restrictions on Aung San suu Kyi and allow her to participate in the country's political reconciliation. Regional analysts say the government needs to release political prisoners and allow opposition groups to play a role in next year's elections, if the international community is to endorse the vote. But some rights groups say the elections are designed to extend the military's power.