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Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi Meets With Burmese Government

Reports from Burma say opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years, left her home to meet with a government official. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia Bureau in Bangkok.

Witnesses say a caravan of cars left Aung San Suu Kyi's Rangoon home and headed for a government guesthouse. There, an official said she was to meet with a liaison who was appointed by the Burmese military leader, General Than Shwe, to deal with the opposition leader after the military's violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators nearly a month ago.

The unusual movement is seen as an incremental concession by Burma's military government following strong international condemnation of the crackdown. Among other things, the international community has demanded that the Burmese leadership open a dialogue with the opposition.

U Lwin, a spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party in Rangoon, confirmed a caravan left her home and went to a government guesthouse Thursday.

He calls it a positive sign, after the government appointed a liaison official. He says that one way or another, the process of change has to begin.

It is the first time Aung San Suu Kyi is known to have left her house since October 2, when she was allowed to go and meet with visiting U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari. This comes ahead of a second visit to Burma by Gambari, which is expected in early November.

Gambari is currently on a six-nation tour of Asia, trying to drum up support for more pressure on Burma, especially by its neighbors: China, India and the other Southeast Asian nations.

Speaking in Beijing Thursday, Gambari said it is also crucial for China - Burma's closest ally - to join the push for reform in the country. He referred to Burma by its new name, Myanmar.

"We are pleased that we are making this stop, because this is a very important stop in this extended mission, not only to ASEAN countries, but also to neighboring countries of Myanmar," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in legislative elections in 1990, but the military, which has ruled Burma since a 1962 coup d'etat, annulled the results.

Witnesses say security forces continue to arrest those suspected of taking part in last month's pro-democracy demonstrations. The protests, sparked by a rise in fuel prices and led largely by Buddhist monks, ended when soldiers used guns, batons, and teargas against demonstrators in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other cities.

The government says 10 people died, but diplomats and witnesses say the figure could be in the hundreds.