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Myanmar finds new channel to Suu Kyi

Junta chief Senior General Than Shwe names labour minister Aung Kyi to build “smooth relations” with the detained leader.

world Updated: Oct 09, 2007 22:26 IST

Myanmar's Junta tasked a moderate minister to develop relations with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as the regime sought, on Tuesday, to deflect criticism over its bloody crackdown on mass protests. With the United Nations weighing up a statement criticising the government, Junta chief Senior General Than Shwe named deputy labour minister Aung Kyi to build “smooth relations” with the detained opposition leader. <b1>

The appointment of Aung Kyi, a general with a reputation as a moderate and who has a track record of dealing with the United Nations, is the latest in a series of small gestures apparently aimed at appeasing UN member states.

Some analysts questioned whether the gestures would be enough, saying the situation in Myanmar — ruled by the military since 1962 — remained largely unchanged. “I think they recognise they have to do something without really giving up any power, they have to make a public gesture,” said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert from Georgetown University in the United States.

“But it does not amount to anything right now given the leadership... I would say right now it is the status quo, with a few frills attached.”

The official New Light of Myanmar paper said the appointment was suggested by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his mission here last week. “In respect of Gambari's recommendation, and in view of smooth relations with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi... U Aung Kyi is assigned duty as minister for relations,” it reported.

A bloody junta crackdown on peaceful protests led by monks in Yangon last month left at least 13 people dead, and roused an international outcry.

The US, France and Britain are pushing for a UN Security Council statement this week condemning the regime, but Myanmar's ally China is leading a drive to soften its tone. In an apparent attempt to forestall any punitive UN action, the junta last week said that Than Shwe was willing to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the last 18 years. But strict conditions were attached to the meeting, including that Aung San Suu Kyi stop urging her supporters to confront the regime and end support for sanctions against Myanmar.

First Published: Oct 09, 2007 21:54 IST