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Burma Military Opens Communication With Opposition Leader

The Burmese military government has appointed a deputy minister to begin talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The move is the latest in an apparent bid to forestall condemnation by the U.N. Security Council. National League for Democracy says that in order for negotiations to be successful, military government must drop preconditions for talks. Chad Bouchard reports from Bangkok.

The Burmese government's new envoy to the political opposition is Deputy Labor Minister Aung Kyi. His assignment is to create "smooth relations" with Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader the government has kept under house arrest for most of the past 18 years.

In another conciliatory move, the government says it has released hundreds of monks and lay people arrested during the crackdown, and has donated thousands of dollars to monasteries.

The state-controlled media say the military council agreed to appoint the special liaison at the request of the United Nations special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, who visited the country last week. Gambari met with government leaders and Aung San Suu Kyi following the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters that began in late September.

Monday, Gambari called for the government to hold talks with the opposition as soon as possible.

Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwongs is a retired professor of International Relations at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. He says Aung Kyi's appointment is part of an effort to avoid intervention by the international community.

"By setting up this sort of liaison officer, you know, it looks good. But I doubt whether the junta is sincere enough to do honestly. Because right now the U.N. General Assembly, is having a meeting," said Chaiyachoke. "Therefore they [the generals] are trying to make up something to make it look good so that the U.N. General Assembly will at least cool down."

Burma's top general, Than Shwe, told Gambari he would personally meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, but only if she stopped calling for opposition to the government and international sanctions against the country. Gambari on Monday called for Tan Shwe to drop those conditions.

Naing Aung of the Bangkok-based Forum for Democracy in Burma says the appointment of the special liaison will only put more distance between military leaders and the opposition.

He welcomes the idea of talks, but says the government has to end its repression.

"They put the people as a hostage, and then they call it a dialogue. And nobody will take it. I think that if the military regime really wants to talk this is a really good time. We can avoid the confrontation. But they have to stop arresting the people every day," he said.

China, one of Burma's closest allies and trading partners, is a permanent member of the Security Council, and can veto actions. A Chinese spokesman says any action by the U.N. Security Council should be "prudent and responsible", and not involve sanctions.