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US, Burmese Officials Hold Rare Senior-Level Talks in Beijing

The State Department confirmed Thursday that senior U.S and Burmese officials met earlier this week in Beijing and discussed human rights issues, including the continued detention of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Officials said the meeting, arranged by China, was the highest-level U.S-Burmese discussion since 2003. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States has long refused to hold senior level talks with Burmese officials in that country's capital, Rangoon, because of the military government's refusal to give U.S. diplomats access to Aung San Suu Kyi.

But officials say the Bush administration agreed to the Beijing meeting because it provided another forum in which to underline concerns about the country's human rights record and to support the work of the U.N. special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari.

The U.S. delegation to the meeting, held Tuesday, was led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Eric John.

Information Minister Kyaw San headed the Burmese team that also included Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Culture Minister Khin Aung Myint.

Briefing reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey described the talks as a 'very frank,' and apparently unproductive, discussion of U.S. concerns about the Burmese government and its behavior:

"I think it was a frank exchange of views, but I don't think we saw anything coming out of them that would indicate, unfortunately, that they had changed their basic opinions," he said. "We certainly didn't hear that they were planning on releasing Aung San Suu Kyi or the other political prisoners."

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party (NLD) handily won parliamentary elections in 1990, but was barred from taking power by the military.

The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been in various kinds of detention most of the time since then. The Rangoon government announced late last month it was extending her current house arrest for another year.

Spokesman Casey said the United States wants the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the approximately 1,000 other Burmese political prisoners, and the opening of a "legitimate" political dialogue in the country in which all elements can participate.

The Rangoon government is expected to resume a constitution-writing national convention next month that is ostensibly intended to put the country on a path to democracy, but which excludes the NLD and other opposition and ethnic factions.

A senior official here said Deputy Assistant Secretary John's talks with the Burmese ministers were civil, but pointed and direct.

He said the Burmese government, in a quest for greater international recognition, has frequently sought visits by senior U.S. officials, but has been turned down each time because of its refusal to allow those officials to meet with anyone they want in Rangoon, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

The official said it was unclear why the Burmese acceded to the meeting in Beijing, but said he believed the Chinese government had encouraged them to do it.

The United States maintains an embassy in Rangoon headed by a charge d'affaires, though its contact with the government is limited to working-level discussions.