YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's leading opposition party issued a call Tuesday for talks with the military regime following a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, but urged the junta not to set preconditions for the talks.
The military government has offered to meet with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but on condition she renounce calls for international sanctions against the military regime, which has been widely condemned for breaking up the protests last month.
"The success of a dialogue is based on sincerity and the spirit of give and take," said the National League for Democracy statement, which was based on past speeches by Suu Kyi. "The will for achieving success is also crucial and there should not be any preconditions."
"The will to meet and negotiate is the key to resolving the country's dire problems," said the statement — the party's first since the junta's offer to meet with Suu Kyi.
The statement appeared to be an attempt by the party to encourage the junta to engage Suu Kyi in talks, but without abandoning its platform. The statement emphasized past statements by Suu Kyi, saying the party could make "adjustments" for the sake of dialogue.
The NLD made its move as the government mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar newspaper printed an announcement on its front page saying that Deputy Labor Minister Aung Kyi had been appointed "minister for relations" to coordinate contacts with Suu Kyi.
Aung Kyi has a reputation among foreign diplomats, U.N. officials and aid groups as being relatively accessible and reasonable — a contrast to other top junta leaders who are considered deeply insular, suspicious and fiercely hostile toward Suu Kyi.
Protests erupted Aug. 19 after the government raised fuel prices and the rallies mushroomed into a national movement that was crushed when troops fired on demonstrators on Sept. 26 and 27. The regime said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks who led the rallies.
Global outrage was directed at the junta, with the international community condemning the crackdown and calling for the release of the 62-year-old Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years without trial.
The government announced last week that the junta's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, was willing to meet personally with Suu Kyi, but only if she met certain conditions. Than Shwe has only met with Suu Kyi once before, in 2002, and the talks quickly broke down.
While many nations in the west have called for sanctions to punish the regime and force it to open up the political process, China — which has a veto on the U.N. Security Council — is arguing against sanctions.
"Sanctions or pressure will not help to solve the issue in Myanmar," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular news conference in Beijing on Tuesday. He said China was encouraged that the situation in Myanmar was calmer now. "We hope this momentum can be maintained," he said.
The junta has come under intense international pressure to enter talks with Myanmar's democracy movement. The junta did not indicate when the new official might meet with the Suu Kyi.
It appeared, however, that Aung Kyi would coordinate Suu Kyi's contacts with both the regime and the U.N., which is seeking to end the political deadlock between democracy advocates and a military that has ruled since 1962.
His naming appeared to be a nod to the U.N. The world body's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, suggested creating the Cabinet-level job during his visit to Myanmar earlier this month, the newspaper announcement said. It added that the junta had accepted the idea "in respect of Gambari's recommendation and in view of smooth relations with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi." "Daw" is a polite term for addressing older women.
The military presence has considerably eased in Yangon's streets in recent days. There were no more barricades, except along the road going to Suu Kyi's house, which has three layers of barbed wire barricades and sandbagged troops' positions.
On Tuesday, a few monks could be seen walking along the streets, holding begging bowls. People crowded open-air food stalls in the evening, with the curfew called back to 10 p.m. and ending at 4 a.m. Some residents, however, continued to feel uneasy despite the calm, fearing sporadic raids and possible arrests.
The current junta came to power after crushing a 1988 pro-democracy uprising by killing as many as 3,000 people. Myanmar's previous constitution was suspended in 1988. The junta then allowed elections in 1990, but nullified the vote after Suu Kyi's party won.