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Sydney Morning Herald 5/28 (r)

May 28, 1996

First signs of softening in regime's cycle of repression
By MARK BAKER, Herald Correspondent in Rangoon

Burma's military leadership has given the first hints that it
might be ready for a political solution to its bitter, seven-year conflict with
the country's democracy movement.

As Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi continued to stage a
congress of her National League for Democracy (NLD) in defiance of the regime,
Burma's Government-controlled press yesterday outlined conditions for a
possible peace dialogue.

A commentary published in the country's two Burmese language newspapers denied 
the regime was opposed to a dialogue with Ms Suu Kyi and conceded that the 
majority of Burmese wanted national reconciliation.

It indicated the regime might be prepared to open talks, provided the NLD 
accepted a continuing central political role for the military and
agreed to a process of "mutual confidence building".

It said that if Ms Suu Kyi were prepared to "build national
reconciliation with a sacrificing spirit" the dialogue would be smooth and fast.

But the commentary also warned that if she attempted to drive the authorities 
into a corner through domestic and international agitation "the country and 
people will have to remain in trouble for a long time
to come".

Political analysts said the article - expressed in unusually polite and 
conciliatory language - was the first formal acknowledgment by the
regime of Ms Suu Kyi's demand for dialogue. 

But they were uncertain whether the comments signalled a genuine shift in
the regime's hard line, or were simply an attempt to deflect mounting 
international criticism.

Other articles published in the official press yesterday continued the regime's 
usual belligerent rhetoric against the democracy movement. One described Ms Suu 
Kyi and her supporters as "bastards who stink like slaves."  Another described 
them as "maggots in the flesh".

The developments came as several hundred NLD officials held the second day of a 
congress which the authorities have attempted to block by detaining more than 
260 party members.

The arrests have been denounced by Western governments and the United States has
announced that it will lobby for tougher international action against Burma in 
response to the crackdown.

On Sunday Ms Suu Kyi - released last July from six years' house arrest - 
announced a renewed campaign to force the regime to honour the NLD's landslide 
1990 election win. 

While she has previously accepted the military's important role in Burmese
society, her delegates walked out of a convention last year which is drafting
a new Constitution that would entrench the military's grip on power and bar her 
from leading the country.

Yesterday's commentary stressed that Ms Suu Kyi must declare her willingness to 
engage in a reconciliation process that accepted the "key" role of the armed 
forces in politics.

It said differences needed to be negotiated with tolerance and Ms Suu Kyi's 
failure to define the kind of dialogue she wanted had complicated the process.

"If a party really believes that national reconciliation is necessary, it will 
have to build mutual confidence through sacrifices," it said.

Such confidence building was complicated by Ms Suu Kyi's opposition to the use 
of forced labour on national infrastructure projects and military portering, and
her calls for foreign investors to stay away from Burma until it achieved 

The article said "public labour contributions" were essential to rebuild the 
country and porters had been essential for counter-insurgency operations, 
although the need was now diminishing.