Asia

Myanmar key players in rare roundtable talks

October 1, 2012, Myanmar President Thein Sein (C) greets supporters as he arrives at Yangon International Airport Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thein Sein heads a civilian government dominated by a military-backed party

Myanmar's president has held rare roundtable talks with the opposition, military and ethnic groups, as the US calls for "credible" polls next year.

The meeting comes days after officials announced the next general election would be held in late 2015.

Ahead of the meeting, US President Barack Obama held telephone talks with both President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

He urged Thein Sein to ensure the polls were "inclusive".

Friday's gathering in the capital Naypyitaw was reportedly to focus on the peace process, national reconciliation and political reform.

Senior officials attending included the president, both vice-presidents, the two parliamentary speakers, the military chief and representatives from various ethnic political parties.

Ms Suu Kyi, whose party the National League for Democracy (NLD) is the official opposition, has called for such a meeting in the past.

Afterwards, a presidential spokesman said they had agreed the parliament would discuss amendments to the constitution but gave no details. The opposition wants to repeal clauses that reserve parliamentary seats for the military and prevent Ms Suu Kyi from standing for president.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Aung San Suu Kyi became a lawmaker in 2012, after years under house arrest

Jonah Fisher, BBC News, Myanmar

Having been wooed by Thein Sein to join parliament and validate his reforms Aung San Suu Kyi has spent the last two years as an increasingly frustrated outsider.

The meetings with the president have dried up and Ms Suu Kyi's repeated requests for talks with the head of the army have gone unanswered. With just a year to go to the general elections, Myanmar appeared to be sleepwalking towards yet another crisis.

Now the talks are on but many will view them with cynicism.

The Burmese government is well known for making grand gestures just before high-profile diplomatic visits. In the past it was groups of political prisoners being released. Now most of them are out of jail, there will be those who see these discussions in a similar light.

In two weeks President Obama will be in Naypyitaw to attend the most prestigious summit the country has ever seen. It seems the threat of a few pointed words forced the Burmese leaders into action.


Political reform

Last week, officials announced that the general election would take place in either late October or early November 2015.

The NLD boycotted the last general election in 2010, because of rules it said were unfair. That poll, the first in the nation in 20 years, moved Myanmar away from decades of outright military rule. It now has a civilian government dominated by a military-backed party.

Thein Sein, the elected president, initiated a series of reforms after the election that led to the Suu Kyi-led pro-democracy opposition rejoining the political process.

A by-election in 2012 saw the Nobel peace laureate - who spent years under house arrest as she called for democracy in the nation - elected to parliament in a landslide win for the NLD.

Despite her personal popularity, she is banned from running for president in next year's election for constitutional reasons.

Thein Sein's government, meanwhile, is facing criticism that the reform process has stalled.

Earlier this week the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, told the general assembly that while progress had been achieved, there were also signs of backtracking, citing unresolved ethnic conflicts, the incarceration of political prisoners and violence in Rakhine state.

Mr Obama is expected to make his second presidential visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, in November.

The White House said Mr Obama had asked Thein Sein to take "additional steps" towards resolving the conflict in Rakhine.

In 2012 violence broke out between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, killing about 200 people. Since then tens of thousands of people have been displaced, mostly from the minority Rohingya community.

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