US in Burma aid talks with Aung San Suu Kyi

Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon The opposition is split over how to alter sanctions but Western countries are seeking a consensus

The US has begun talks with Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi about US aid programmes in the country, says the top US diplomat in Burma.

The US chargé d'affaires, Larry Dinger, said he was also consulting Burma's military-backed authorities.

The US currently imposes sanctions on Burma, and offers direct aid only for emergency and humanitarian causes.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) recently called for talks on modifying sanctions.

"Of course, the United States is engaging in a dialogue with Aung Sang Suu Kyi and the NLD about US assistance programmes in Burma," Mr Dinger said, adding the dialogue began on Tuesday.

"We hope that it will be a continuing conversation," he told the BBC.

"We also engaged with the authorities in Naypyidaw and other stakeholders on such important issues in the effort to consider all important perspectives in the formulating of US policies toward Burma," he said.

Analysis

Some opposition voices in Burma are in favour of dropping sanctions, arguing they harm ordinary Burmese and restrict growth.

Others say it is military governance, or the lack of it, which stunts growth, while sanctions remain an important symbol of rejecting the military's right to rule.

After her emergence from house arrest, Ms Suu Kyi has said she is listening to as many people as possible, on this and other issues.

But she has so far refused to compromise with other parts of the democratic opposition who chose to take part in the military-run elections last November.

This has posed a challenge to the international community, which is eager to find ways to help Burma's people without giving credibility to a government they see as basically flawed.

Burma's critics have demanded that the more than 2,000 political prisoners in Burma's jails be released and a genuine role in governance be granted to all voices in the country.

Last November's elections, won overwhelmingly by a military-backed party, were denounced as a sham by the US, Britain, Australia, Europe.

However, Burma's closest neighbours, led by Thailand, China and India, are active participants in Burma's economy. This offers rich natural resources access to which is controlled by a military elite.

In its recent statement, the NLD said sanctions primarily affect Burma's rulers, not the general public - but did not say whether it wanted them dropped or strengthened.

It said it was seeking talks with the US, EU, Canada and Australia to see "when, how and under what circumstances sanctions might be modified in the interests of democracy, human rights and a healthy economic environment".

Since her release in November, Aung San Suu Kyi has called for greater foreign investment in her country, which she says has been "left behind".

The NLD, which won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power, is not represented in parliament.

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