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Suu Kyi 'to meet president' for first time

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to meet the country's president for the first time today, an official said, in the latest sign the regime is reaching out to its opponents.

world Updated: Aug 19, 2011 13:31 IST

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to meet the country's president for the first time on Friday, an official said, in the latest sign the regime is reaching out to its opponents.

The Nobel laureate, who was freed from seven straight years of detention in November, was invited by the authorities to visit the capital Naypyidaw to join President Thein Sein at an economic development workshop.

"It's good if they meet. It is an important step for national reconciliation. We should all work together," Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political adviser to the president, told AFP.

Another government official who did not want to be named said Suu Kyi would meet Thein Sein on Friday afternoon in Naypyidaw.

In March the junta handed power to a new nominally civilian government led by former general Thein Sein after nearly half a century of military rule.

Sources in the dissident's National League for Democracy Party (NLD) confirmed that Suu Kyi had left her home in Myanmar's former capital of Yangon by car on her way to the capital on a journey arranged by the authorities.

The 66-year-old, who has spent much of the last two decades in detention, was released from house arrest shortly after a November election that was won by the military's political proxies and marred by complaints of cheating.

The NLD, which won a 1990 vote but was never allowed to take power by the junta, boycotted last year's poll because of rules seemed designed to exclude Suu Kyi, and was stripped of its status as a political party as a result.

But more recently there have been signs that the new government is softening its stance towards its critics, with Suu Kyi holding a second round of talks with labour minister Aung Kyi earlier this month.

On Sunday, Suu Kyi travelled unhindered to the Bago region on her first overtly political trip outside her home city since being released from detention, addressing thousands of supporters.

The authorities warned her in June that such a tour could spark chaos and riots, but the one-day excursion passed without incident.

The new government has also called for peace talks with ethnic rebels and is allowing a UN rights envoy to visit Myanmar next week for the first time in more than a year.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, will meet senior government figures, including the defence and foreign ministers, during his August 21-25 trip, a Myanmar official said.

Quintana last visited Myanmar in February 2010 but was not allowed to see Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time. His subsequent requests to return had been rejected until now.

The UN envoy has been a vocal critic of Myanmar's rulers, enraging the junta after his last trip by suggesting that human rights violations may amount to crimes against humanity and could warrant a UN inquiry.

The international community has called for a number of reforms in Myanmar including the release of around 2,000 political prisoners.

In a further sign the new government is seeking to improve its international image, Myanmar's state newspapers this week dropped slogans lambasting foreign media such as the BBC for "killer broadcasts" and "sowing hatred".

Myanmar's generals moved their entire government from the economic hub of Yangon to the current remote jungle location in late 2005, after building the new administrative capital in secret over the previous three years.

First Published: Aug 19, 2011 13:29 IST