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February 4, 2009

Myanmar democracy leader shuns junta’s minister
Myanmar's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to meet with the minister assigned to organise the junta's contacts with her, AFP quoted the government as saying in state media Tuesday.

In a television broadcast hours after United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari left the military-ruled nation, the regime accused the democracy icon and her party of setting impossible conditions for dialogue with the generals.

"After your previous visit, we proposed two times for dialogue between relations minister Aung Kyi and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but she did not accept it," a broadcaster quoted information minister Kyaw Hsan as telling Gambari.

"Regarding to the dialogue between the government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, our side is always opening the door for dialogue," the broadcaster said, using the honorific "Daw" to refer to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung Kyi's appointment to coordinate junta contacts with Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2007 was seen as a major sop to the West after the violent suppression of massive anti-junta demonstrations in September that year.

But their last meeting was in January 2008, and Aung San Suu Kyi said soon after she was "not satisfied" with the way the dialogue was progressing.

Instead, the junta has forged ahead with its own "Roadmap to Democracy" which its says will lead to multi-party elections in 2010 but which dissidents deride as a sham as it does not include Aung San Suu Kyi.

Gambari met with the Nobel peace laureate on Monday. She refused to meet the Nigerian diplomat on his previous visit to Myanmar in August 2008, apparently after he failed to secure any concrete reform pledges from the regime.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party said soon after her meeting with Gambari on Monday that she was frustrated with the lack of progress in Myanmar toward genuine dialogue between the junta and opposition.

The NLD also reiterated that the party - which won 1990 elections subsequently ignored by the junta - would only sit down for dialogue if all political prisoners were released and the 1990 election results were honoured.

Kyaw Hsan accused the NLD of being unrealistic.

"(Dialogue) cannot succeed by asking for the impossible without standing on the reality," he was quoted as saying.

"If she abandons these demands, even the head of state himself will meet directly with her ... dialogue cannot be done by only one side."

He also defended the harsh jail sentences handed down to at least 270 democracy activists at the end of 2008, most in connection with the September 2007 protests led by Buddhist monks.

"Regarding those who were imprisoned, it was done in accordance with the law. Those who were sentenced have the right to appeal according to the existing laws," state TV quoted him as saying.

Human rights groups have decried the jails terms - some as long as 104 years - as an effort by the junta to suppress any dissenting voices ahead of their much-trumpeted 2010 elections.

Gambari left Myanmar on Tuesday after a four-day visit during which he failed to meet any of the senior junta leadership including head of state Senior General Than Shwe, despite his aim to foster dialogue.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been kept under house arrest for most of the last 19 years, enraging Western governments which have imposed sanctions on the regime.

In a related report, the Associated Press quoted Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein as telling the UN envoy that the world body should lift economic sanctions and visa bans if it wants to see political stability.

Gambari met with Thein Sein before ending his four-day visit with no public comment - and no sign of progress on promoting democracy and political reconciliation.

Myanmar's military, which has ruled the country since 1962, when it was known as Burma, tolerates virtually no dissent.

Western nations, including the United States, impose economic and political sanctions on Myanmar because of its poor human rights record and failure to restore democracy.

Gambari reportedly asked Thein Sein to release more political prisoners, to consider a dialogue with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and to make the military-guided political process inclusive for all.

Gambari did not meet with junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe during this week's visit, as he did on his previous three trips.

The United Nations largely failed to nudge the military regime toward talks with the opposition, hoping the top generals would respond to international pressure to embrace national reconciliation following its violent suppression of protests in 2007.

Human rights groups say Myanmar now holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, up sharply from nearly 1,200 before the mass pro-democracy demonstrations in 2007.

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