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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 12:24 GMT
Analysis: Burma's secret talks
UN special envoy Razali Ismail, left, and NLD opposition member Tin Oo, front right,  Rangoon, August 2001
Razali, left, has helped secure the release of prisoners
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By Larry Jagan
BBC Burma analyst in Bangkok
The Burmese military regime has been in secret talks with the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for more than a year.

The talks are believed to have started in October 2000, a month after Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest after trying to travel out of Rangoon to Mandalay.

Aung San Suu Kyi pictured in February 1999
Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest
But it was only in January 2001 that the United Nations envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, was able to reveal that the talks had in fact got under way.

"The process is totally secret," he told the BBC. "And both sides have promised to keep the nature and details of the talks completely secret."

Both the generals and the opposition say they are committed to the talks. At the various meetings, ideas, priorities and concerns are exchanged.

It is all part of the confidence-building process before substantive talks can be launched.

More than 250 political prisoners have been released by the generals in the past year as a measure of trust-building with the opposition leader.

But National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman U Lwin says more than 600 party members are still in jail, while international human rights groups say there are more than 1,300 political prisoners still incarcerated.

UN envoy's role

The talks between the two sides were brokered by the UN envoy. He has made six trips to Burma since his appointment in April 2000, every time renewing his appeal to move the dialogue forward.

His repeated message to the junta calls for:

  • The immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi
  • The release of all political prisoners, especially the remaining 20 elected MPs
  • Allowing all political parties to operate freely
  • Starting substantial talks on political issues, including possible power sharing
  • Reforming the economy

But the generals want some concessions in return. They are desperate to attract foreign investors and international aid.

Many analysts believe the growing economic crisis in the country has convinced them there is no alternative to political reform.

General Than Shwe
General Than Shwe: Wants concessions in return for reform
The international community has tried to encourage the dialogue process by promising to reward any significant step towards political change with humanitarian aid.

Japan, Australian and the European Union have all increased their financial commitment to UN programmes in Burma, with a clear understanding that this will be increased to match significant progress - but could just as easily be cut if there is any retreat from the process.

Time is running out for the regime with the international community losing patience with the slow pace of reform.

There are growing demands to isolate Rangoon further if there are not any concrete results from the talks soon.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
UN envoy's Burma trip is cancelled
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Burma's generals feel the heat
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Aung San Suu Kyi meets Burma general
10 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Burma's military 'supports democracy'
05 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Burma's slow road to reform
06 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Burma opposition denies 'power share'
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