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EU Presses Burma Leaders to Talk with Opposition

A European Union delegation is again pressing Burma's military government to hold substantive talks with the opposition National League for Democracy.

The four member European Union delegation held talks Monday with Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win in Rangoon. It is the fourth EU visit since 1999, and the delegation has the same agenda: to get the military government to begin serious talks with the restricted opposition on how to move Burma toward democracy.

The European Union officials also met with ethnic minority groups on Sunday and called for a release of all political prisoners.

The delegation will meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday. It will be the first such meeting since she was released from her latest stint under house arrest in May.

The European Union, along with the United States, has made political reform and better human rights a precondition for lifting sanctions and resuming aid to Burma. In recent months, Burma's ruling generals have indicated they will move the country toward democracy slowly, as along as there is no risk of instability.

There has been some progress. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) has been allowed to resume limited activities. And since May, Aung San Suu Kyi has been permitted to travel outside the capital to meet with NLD members.

Most of this progress began after U.N. envoy Razali Ismail brought the government and the NLD together for a series of closed door talks beginning in October 2000. But there has been no substantive discussion on political reconciliation. As one Rangoon-based diplomatic source told VOA, the talks remain deadlocked and the outlook pessimistic on reform.

But a Bangkok-based academic, professor Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong, said Western states in particular may be expecting the military government to move too quickly.

Mr. Chaiyachoke, from Chulalongkorn University, said internal divisions within the military government must to be taken into account. The military government has "to at least try to negotiate among themselves," he said. "This is the thing we have not considered or tried to bring in our consideration at all."

Mr. Chaiyachoke said he believes it will take at least two more years before significant reforms may begin.

It is now more than 12 years since the NLD won a landslide victory in national elections in May 1990, but the military government refused to hand over power.