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Indonesian Envoy Expected to Meet with Detained Suu Kyi - 2003-09-21

An Indonesian special envoy, former foreign minister Ali Alatas, arrived in Rangoon Sunday as part of an effort by Burma's regional neighbors to pressure the country's military government to release detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Analysts say cooperation between the government and opposition leaders is the only way to achieve political reform in Burma.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri sent special envoy Ali Alatas to Burma in one of the first attempts by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to pressure one of its members on political reform.

Indonesia chairs the 10-nation group, due to hold its annual summit next month. ASEAN members want Aung San Suu Kyi released before the summit begins.

The Nobel laureate and founder of the pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy, has been in detention since May 30, when supporters of the military government attacked her convoy in northern Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi is in a Rangoon hospital recovering from surgery on Friday, but Mr. Alatas is expected to meet with her during his five-day visit.

International and regional pressure has been building on Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi and start political reforms.

Observers, however, say reform depends on the willingness of Burma's military government to sit down and talk with the leaders of its opposition parties, including the National League for Democracy. The NLD won a landslide victory in national elections in 1990, but the military junta refused to hand over the power it still holds.

Ross Dunkley, editor of the Rangoon Myanmar Times, said he sees new hope in a recent cabinet re-shuffling. He said Burma's new prime minister, Khin Nyunt, is a pragmatist who is offering concessions to the opposition under the auspices of the government, also known as the State Peace and Development Council.

"In the end the position appears clear - the SPDC without Aung San Suu Kyi has no chance; Aung San Suu Kyi cannot do anything without the SPDC. The real truth now is if an engagement can occur - a union that can deliver a promised marriage," Mr. Dunkley said.

But as editor of the independent newspaper published in Thailand, The Irrawaddy, Aung Zaw remains pessimistic. He said promises made by the new prime minister in a recent speech are empty. "I don't see anything in the road map speech and it was more like a U-turn. … Even some opposition members thought that the reshuffle and… speech was just window dressing," he said.

Burma is under tough economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union, and political pressure from some ASEAN states because it refuses to free Aung San Suu Kyi and reform its political system.