By WAI MOE AND SIMON ROUGHNEEN
CHA-AM, Thailand — The Burmese military government will consider relaxing Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest terms, if she “maintains a good attitude,” according to Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson Kazuo Kadama.
Kadama gave what he termed “a brief summation” of remarks made by Burmese Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein at meetings held between Asean leaders and their Chinese, Japanese and South Korean counterparts early on Saturday at the 15th Asean Summit.
When asked to clarify the specifics of the statement, the spokesman said “it is not for me to interpret the Myanmar [Burma] prime minister, but I am merely giving an account of his comments to us.”
This is believed to be the first time a Burmese junta leader has discussed Aung San Suu Kyi at an Asean summit. At previous meetings, any attempt to raise the issue resulted in a blank refusal by the Burmese representatives to discuss the matter.
On Saturday afternoon, Prime Minister Thein Sein met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in a separate bilateral meeting. This was the first meeting between the two since the Burmese junta’s August offensive against an ethnic Chinese militia based in Burma’s northern Shan State, which resulted in 37,000 refugees fleeing into China, and a bilateral war of words between the two authoritarian regimes. Details of that meeting have yet to be released.
The Japanese briefing took place simultaneously as a press conference given by Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who briefly mentioned Thein Sein’s remarks, but in less detail than the Japanese representative.
According to Kadama, the Burmese prime minister said that “the US seems to have softened its position on Myanmar [Burma], and Aung San Suu Kyi has softened her attitude to the Myanmar authorities.”
Thein Sein told his counterparts that the regime is preparing for the 2010 election, and will make the process inclusive. He said the junta wants to maintain law and order in the interim period and to ensure that all stakeholders take part.
The spokesperson declined to speculate on whether that means all political prisoners could be freed in advance of the elections, or whether Asian countries would ask the junta to address other priority issues raised by countries that have imposed sanctions against Burma.
Kadama noted that Japan has consistently asked the Burmese regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi and make democratic reforms.
No mention was made of the junta’s recent military offensives against Karen and Kokang militias in recent months, or of the possibility that attacks would be carried out on other militias in advance of the elections.
After his own bilateral meeting with Thein Sein on Saturday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejijjiva was asked about the prospect of renewed civil war in Burma, and its negative implications for Thailand.
He did not confirm or dismiss the likelihood of violent conflict, but said, “Thailand stands ready to do its humanitarian duty, as always,” if more Burmese refugees flee to Thailand due to fighting.
Minutes after Kadama finished his briefing, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit gave a positive assessment of Asean’s Burma policy, saying that some progress had been made in recent months, with Aung San Suu Kyi meeting with a regime representative and with foreign diplomats. This analysis comes despite Aung San Suu Kyi being sentenced to an additional 18 months house arrest in August.
Kasit said that Asean will offer to assist the junta in holding its 2010 elections, but could not say whether an Asean electoral team would be approved by the regime, adding that “the Myanmar [Burma] government process is very slow.”
The Thai foreign minister noted progress elsewhere, in the case of the recent release of 127 political prisoners among just over 7,000 prisoners pardoned.
Kasit said that the number of political prisoners released was insufficient and that Asean retained its policy of calling for the release of all political prisoners and making the 2010 election a free and fair procedure that included all stakeholders.
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