Myanmar's Suu Kyi holds rare talks with minister

By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi held a rare meeting with a government minister on Monday, raising the prospect of a thaw in relations between the Nobel Peace laureate and the country's new military-backed leadership.
Suu Kyi, who was only informed about the meeting on Sunday, talked for just over an hour with Labour Minister Aung Kyi at a state guesthouse in what was the first known contact between the 66-year-old and a member of the new, nominally civilian government.
In a joint statement, both parties said they were positive and satisfied with the meeting, in which they had discussed issues that would be of benefit to Myanmar's people.
Suu Kyi, the figurehead of the fight against military dictatorship in Myanmar, already knew Aung Kyi, having met him on nine occasions since 2007 while she was in detention and he was a minister liaising between her and the junta.
Aung Kyi dismissed suggestions those meetings were a waste of time and said he hoped for further dialogue with Suu Kyi.
"There were some benefits from previous meetings and we expect better results from these talks," Aung Kyi told reporters.
With Suu Kyi beside him, Aung Kyi read a joint statement to the media.
"Discussions were focussed on possibilities for cooperating in the interests of the people," he said. "This included the rule of law and overcoming disunity, and matters that will benefit the public."  
A new government took office in April, ending 49 years of direct military rule over the former British colony. Since her release from seven years of house arrest last November, Suu Kyi has made repeated calls for dialogue with the new rulers.
SIGNS OF PROGRESS
Nyan Win, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD), Suu Kyi's active but officially disbanded party, said the political climate had changed and the government's invitation to Suu Kyi indicated some progress.
Suu Kyi has been careful not to antagonise the government since her release and did not criticise a November 7 election regarded at home and abroad as a sham that ensured the same regime stayed in power behind a veneer of democracy.
The government and military appear to have backed off from their tough stance towards Suu Kyi, occasionally criticising her in state-run media but allowing her freedom to travel and meet with diplomats, journalists and supporters.
Analysts say the government is aware that any move against Suu Kyi would anger the international community and rule out the possibility of Western sanctions being lifted in the near future.
Dialogue with Suu Kyi could be a move by Myanmar's reclusive leaders, many of them former military officers, to show foreign governments they are ready to engage.
Christopher Roberts, a Southeast Asia specialist at Australian National University, said the meeting was probably more than a publicity stunt.
"It comes as part of a collective pattern of behaviour by the government that has potential for incremental improvements," he said.
"Myanmar is trying to build a system and image of a real government and I think it wants to normalise things. Not only have its leaders met U.S., Australian and U.N. representatives, they've allowed them to meet Suu Kyi, too.
"It will do these things, as long as they don't undermine security or stability," Roberts added.
(Writing and additional reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould)

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