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Suu Kyi meets Myanmar junta minister

world Updated: Oct 03, 2009 16:55 IST

Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi held a rare meeting with a minister of the ruling junta on Saturday, a day after a court rejected her appeal against extended house arrest.

The detained opposition leader met Aung Kyi, the labour minister and official liaison between herself and the government, and they probably discussed how to end sanctions against Myanmar, her lawyer Nyan Win said.

After years of espousing punitive measures against the ruling generals, the Nobel laureate has recently eased her stance on sanctions, as the US unveiled a major policy shift to re-engage with the junta.

It also emerged last week that she had written to military regime leader Than Shwe offering suggestions for lifting Western sanctions against the country.

"I don't know clearly what they discussed but I think it will be related to her letter," her lawyer Nyan Win said of Saturday's meeting, which he said lasted for around 45 minutes at a state guest house.

Washington has repeatedly pressed for the release of Suu Kyi, who has spent much of the past 20 years in detention, but on Friday her appeal against her extended house arrest was rejected by a Yangon court.

Judges upheld her conviction over an incident in which an American man swam uninvited to her house, earning her an extra 18 months of house arrest.

"The refusal of the appeal was a small negative so they usually counter-balance that with a small positive," said a Bangkok-based Western diplomat on hearing of Suu Kyi's meeting with the minister Saturday.

"I think it does actually make sense if you look at the psychology of the regime," added the diplomat, who was "cautiously positive" about the talks.

The extension of Suu Kyi's house arrest keeps her out of the way for elections promised for 2010 by the junta, adding to criticism that the polls are a sham designed to legitimise the military regime's grip on power.

But Suu Kyi, who last met Aung Kyi in January 2008, has welcomed the US moves towards engagement with the junta and believes there should be no pre-conditions for a dialogue between the two nations, her lawyers have said.

Although the US held its highest-level talks with Myanmar in nearly ten years on Tuesday, it has warned against lifting sanctions until the junta makes progress towards democracy.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won the country's last elections by a landslide in 1990, a result which the ruling generals refused to acknowledge, leading the US and European Union to impose sanctions.

In August, a court at Yangon's notorious Insein prison sentenced Suu Kyi to three years' hard labour, but the junta chief reduced that to 18 months' house arrest.

John Yettaw, an eccentric American who triggered the debacle by swimming to her crumbling lakeside home in May, was sentenced to seven years' hard labour, but the regime freed him after a visit by US Senator Jim Webb.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962, with brutal crackdowns on anti-junta protests in 1988 and 2007.