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Mixed Reaction to New Push for Burma Democracy - 2004-03-05


There is mixed reaction to news that both sides in Burma's political dispute have expressed a desire to renew their long-stalled dialogue for peace.

The United Nations special envoy for Burma, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, spoke for the military government and democratic opposition after meeting with their representatives in Rangoon this week. Mr. Razali said relations between the two sides are improving, and that both want to move forward with a process of reconciliation.

Western diplomats in Rangoon Friday said the military needs to make the first move by releasing pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from confinement. Until that happens, diplomats say, the optimism is just talk.

One Burma expert in Thailand (Surachai Sirikrai of Thammasat University) told Reuters news agency it makes sense for the government in Rangoon to be more compromising, in order to deflect international criticism. But he said he still doubts whether the new push toward democracy will succeed.

Mr. Razali said Thursday he is convinced that Burma's Prime Minister Khin Nyunt wants to move his country to full democracy.

A spokesman for the opposition group, National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Zin Linn, told Reuters he thinks the outcry over the latest detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters has forced the military to rethink its position.

The military government arrested her and more than 130 supporters after a clash between the opposition and a pro-government mob in northern Burma last May.

Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in a secret location after the violence until she went to a hospital for surgery in September. She then was allowed to go home, where she remains under virtual house arrest.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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