Myanmar allows Suu Kyi to meet diplomats

Protesters demand release of Aung San Suu Kyi in front of the United Nations in New York on Wednesday.
Myanmar’s military junta allowed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to meet Friday with three diplomats — from the United States, Britain and Australia, according to her spokesman and a government official.

“The meeting is a consequence of her letter she submitted to Senior General Than Shwe, she sent on September 25,” said Nyan Win, Suu Kyi’s lawyer and her political party’s spokesman. A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the meeting. She requested the meeting with the diplomats — whose names weren’t revealed — to hear their opinions about economic sanctions against the South Asian nation, also known as Burma. Further details about the meeting were not immediately available. The Obama administration has said that sanctions will continue, but that they have not worked as a one-tiered strategy. Even as the United States has settled on moving toward diplomacy, detained leader Suu Kyi has called for lifting the sanctions. Suu Kyi’s detention has been a key component in the United States’ political tangle with Myanmar. Critics of the country’s ruling junta have accused the regime of convicting Suu Kyi, 64, to keep her from participating in 2010 elections. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been confined in her house for about 14 of the past 20 years.

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The government opposition leader “does not want to hurt the people of Myanmar. Some of the sanctions do hurt the people,” Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. envoy to Myanmar, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday. More than 30 percent of Myanmar’s population lives in poverty, according to the CIA. Thaung Htun, Myanmar’s government-in-exile’s unofficial representative to the United Nations, disagreed about sanctions’ effect on the nation’s people. Economic restrictions target the regime, Htun said on the CNN interview program “Amanpour.” “The Burmese people are poor and economy is getting worse because of the mismanagement of the regime,” Htun said. “Actually, the regime is getting more money, you know, in the last 20 years. Now they are having $2.6 billion … just from the sale of gas to Thailand, but they don’t use that money for the people.” Myanmar Prime Minister General Thein Sein has called the sanctions “a form of violence” that do not “promote human rights and democracy.” U.S. Senator Jim Webb, D-Virginia, the first congressman to visit Myanmar in a decade, also was on “Amanpour” on Wednesday and said the U.S. State Department “has been clear that they’re not going to move forward on issues like sanctions unless there are further reciprocal gestures.” “But we have seen the beginning of a removal of the paralysis,” Webb added. “Aung San Suu Kyi has been able to meet twice now over the past week with government leaders.” She is still detained, however, and last week she lost the appeal of the 18-month sentence recently added to time she was already serving. She was sentenced in August for breaching the terms of her house arrest after an incident in May in which an uninvited American, John Yettaw, stayed at her home. Htun says it’s too early to tell whether more talks with Myanmar will affect Suu Kyi’s detention or how the regime treats political adversaries.

“If we look at the reality on the ground, there is no improvement,” he said. “There is more violence in the last seven months, more political prisoners, more arrests, and more military attacks in the ethnic minority areas. That’s why we need to be very cautious and we need to put pressure on the regime until these benchmarks can be fulfilled by the regime.”