Aung San Suu Kyi Gains Access to Party Leaders: Could House Arrest Be Lifted?

Aung San Suu Kyi, the jailed Burmese pro-democracy opposition leader, was recently granted visitation rights to meet with three aging leaders of her National League for Democracy. The meeting marked the highest-level contact she has had with her party in years, even as the Burmese junta prepares to clamp down on pro-democracy elements ahead of the first nationwide election since her victory —never realized by taking office— in 1990. Suu Kyi has instead spent most of the last two decades under house arrest.

The pro-democracy opposition leader has been permitted at least three meetings with members of the military government in recent weeks, and appears to be negotiating both for her freedom and for a more democratic environment for the 2010 election campaign. In November, after meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, Suu Kyi was permitted to speak to the media, a rare relaxation of the extreme conditions of her house arrest, and a sign that creative diplomacy from Washington may be playing a role.

According to the BBC:

In her letter Ms Suu Kyi also suggested a face-to-face meeting with Than Shwe and offered her co-operation on matters of national interest.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that Ms Suu Kyi “is also expecting the rest of her requests to be fulfilled. She’s optimistic about her letter. She believes the government will allow her requests”.

Suu Kyi wanted to meet with the party elders in part to move her party toward a new generation of leadership. She reportedly requested that the party elders allow her to “reorganize” the central committee, as the leadership are now very old. There is some hope that new leadership may be viewed with less suspicion by the regime, and the National League for Democracy might be reintegrated into the political fabric of a nation that has struggled under dictatorship for 20 years.

An appeal of Suu Kyi’s house arrest order is underway, though observers are skeptical she will win a supreme court case where her freedom is opposed by the ruling military junta. The appeal has been blocked numerous times by lower courts and by the supreme court itself, though the new appeal relates to the 18-month extension of her detention that resulted from her being charged with “harboring” an American man who mysteriously arrived exhausted at her lakeside home after swimming to get there.

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