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Detained Burmese Opposition Leader Allowed Rare Meeting with Party Members

Burma's detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been allowed to meet with members of her party for the first time in at least three and a half years. As VOA's Kate Woodsome reports from Hong Kong, analysts say the visit probably does not indicate any major change in the policies of the military government.

Burma's military government granted opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a rare chance Friday to leave her Rangoon home, and an even rarer chance to meet with members of her National League for Democracy party.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been under some form of detention for 12 of the last 18 years, and is seldom allowed contact with the outside world. She has been under house arrest since the end of May 2003, and last known to have met leaders of her party the following May.

Nyo Myint is a spokesman for a political group run by Burmese exiles in Thailand, called the National League for Democracy - Liberated Area.

He said Friday's meeting at a government guesthouse in Rangoon offered opposition leaders a chance to update Aung San Suu Kyi about their activities, and make recommendations for possible government talks.

"She cannot decide herself, and then she needs a collective decision to get like a national reconciliation for the people," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi also met separately Friday with Aung Kyi, a government official named to liaise with her. Aung Kyi was appointed in September following worldwide condemnation of the government's violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations.

On Thursday, Ibrahim Gambari, the special United Nations envoy to Burma, ended a six-day visit to the country. Gambari said he helped start a process that would lead to "substantive dialogue" between the government and the opposition leader.

He met Aung San Suu Kyi, for the second time since the crackdown, and later read a statement from her, in which she said she is ready to hold talks with the government.

"'In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success," her statement said.

However, Burma's top general, Than Shwe, refused to see Gambari, and the government rejected Gambari's offer to moderate a meeting between government officials and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Last week, as Gambari was about to arrive, the government ordered the U.N.'s top resident diplomat out of the country.

Ian Holliday, a Burma expert at Hong Kong University, says the government likely only tolerated the past week's diplomacy for public relations purposes.

"They play nice enough to keep the world off their backs," he said.

Gambari is expected to brief the U.N. Security Council in New York next week.