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US Diplomats Urge Burma's Military to Talk With Opposition, Ethnic Groups


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Senior U.S. officials have urged Burma's military government to talk with opposition groups before next year's controversial elections. The call for dialogue came during the highest-level visit by U.S. diplomats to Burma in more than a decade.

A day after leaving Burma, diplomat Scott Marciel says the message was made clear to Burma's military leaders: the United States is willing to improve relations, but only if there is progress on democracy in the country.

Marciel, a deputy assistant secretary of State and his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell spent two days meeting with Burma's military and democracy leaders.

Thursday in Bangkok, Marciel said they urged the Burmese to begin a dialogue with the opposition National League for Democracy before next year's elections.

"The NLD, ethnic minority groups - many of whom have strong views about the constitution - and the government have to sit down and try to find a way ahead. And, I think we have to leave it to them to decide on the details of that," said Marciel. "But, I don't see any way forward without that kind of dialogue."

The government plans to hold Burma's first election in two decades next year, but the new constitution ensures the military stays in power.

Marciel says the constitution is "seriously flawed" and the NLD needs to be involved in next year's elections for them to be credible.

The NLD won Burma's last elections in 1990 but the military ignored the results. It now holds more than 2,000 political prisoners, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

He gave no details on the Burmese comments during the meetings and would not say if there were indications the government might release Aung San Suu Kyi.

"It really doesn't matter what the Burmese government says so much as what it does," he said. "They release her or they don't…. There's been talk a bit, them hinting here and there. That's not particularly useful. Either they release her or they don't."

The U.S. diplomats met with Aung San Suu Kyi and Marciel says they urged the government to allow her to regularly meet with her NLD colleagues.

The meetings were the highest-level U.S.-Burma dialogue in 14 years and part of Washington's move from a policy of isolation to engaging the military government.

Marciel says President Obama will appoint a special envoy to Burma.

Mr. Obama meets next week with leaders of Southeast Asian nations, including Burma, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Singapore.

Marciel says he does not expect any high-level dialogue with Burmese leaders, but says lower-level officials could hold informal talks.

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