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US Gives Tentative Welcome to Burmese Junta's Gesture to Opposition - 2003-12-16

The United States has given a tentative welcome to a reported commitment by Burmese military authorities to allow the party of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to take part in a national political convention next year. The State Department says reconciliation should begin with the release of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and others held by the junta.

The State Department says it has always held that the political opposition and ethnic minorities should be included in any political reconciliation process in Burma. And it says if those steps are indeed being promised by the military rulers in Rangoon, they should happen "sooner rather than later."

The comments here followed a Bangkok meeting Monday hosted by the Thai government that included Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung and diplomats from several other countries in the region and the United Nations.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said Mr. Win Aung elaborated on a seven-point plan for a democratic transition announced in August that would start with an all-parties national political convention next year including Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, the NLD.

The Burmese official was also said to have promised a renewal of confidence-building talks with the NLD, which won national elections in 1990 but was banned from taking power.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, standing in for hospitalized Secretary of State Colin Powell, got a telephone briefing on the meeting from Mr. Sathirathai.

Mr. Boucher said the United States has seen similar political promises from the Burmese junta before, and hopes that the reported commitments made in Bangkok will lead to "tangible and real" progress in Burma:

"We have seen promises, we have seen floaters, we have seen ideas, and others have heard these sorts of promises from Burmese authorities," he said. "What we want to see is the kind of action that would demonstrate that they're really going to allow the political forces in Burma and the ethnic minorities to participate in Burma's future that they're going to release these people from jail, and allow the political parties to become involved in the future of their nation."

Mr. Boucher urged the immediate and unconditional release of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained for the peaceful expression of political views.

The Nobel Peace Laureate and four other top leaders of her party have been detained since May after a clash between her followers and pro-government supporters near Rangoon. The United States has called the May 30 incident a junta-inspired mob attack on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues.