News / Asia

US Official Meets Burma's Detained Democracy Leader

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The top U.S. diplomat on East Asia has met with Burma's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the military government's controversial election plans.  The diplomat also met with senior members of the now-defunct National League for Democracy and government representatives.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell met with Aung San Suu Kyi at a state guesthouse.  Burma's democracy leader has been held under house arrest for most of the past 20 years.

They discussed Burma's controversial elections, which are expected later this year, the first in 20 years.

Critics dismiss the elections as a sham designed to keep the military in power.  But some Burmese activists and regional analysts say the vote may be a step forward toward greater political reform.

Campbell's meeting came just days after Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy was dissolved under strict election laws.  He met earlier with about 10 members of the NLD who urged Washington to get tougher with Burma.

A senior member of the group, Win Tin, says Aung San Suu Kyi supports their position.

"We and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have almost the same opinion about the political situation in Burma now, nowadays," said Win Tin.  "So, I think you see the only way out is to have some more tougher economic and political action against the government.  So, she certainly will have the same opinion like us."

The election laws forced parties to expel imprisoned members, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and participate in the elections or be made illegal.

The National League for Democracy refused and was dissolved on Friday.

Some former NLD members created a new party, called the National Democratic Force to contest the elections.

One NDF member, Khin Maung Swe, told Campbell the new party thinks the elections, flawed as they are, will be the best bet for changing to a democratic government.

"If we do not contest in the election ... there is no democratic force in the parliament as the opposition forces.  So, at that time they can do anything they like.  ... So, that we choose the way to contested in the election," said Khin Maung Swe.  "There is the only chance for us to make a way toward the democratic transition.  But, not in a day."

The NLD won Burma's last elections in 1990, but the military ignored the results and harassed and jailed hundreds of party members.

Campbell also met with representatives of the government, but not top leader General Than Shwe.

The government has not yet announced a date for the elections, but it is already guaranteed more than a quarter of parliamentary seats under its 2008 constitution.

Last year, the United States began senior-level engagement with Burma's government after years of isolation.  But, Washington says sanctions will be maintained against Burma until there is visible progress on democracy and human-rights issues.  

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