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Burma Allows Opposition Meeting (r)
Burma Allows Opposition Meeting
Friday, September 26, 1997; 11:10 a.m. EDT
RANGOON, Burma (AP) -- Burma's military rulers gave permission today to
pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party to hold a congress
this weekend, easing fears of mass arrests.
About 300 people will be allowed to gather at Suu Kyi's lakeside compound on
the condition that they meet "in a peaceful and orderly manner," the ruling
State Law and Order Restoration Council said in a statement.
It was the council's second overture in a week toward Suu Kyi's National
League for Democracy, following an attempt by Gen. Khin Nyunt, one of the
regime's top generals, to meet NLD Chairman Aung Shwe.
Suu Kyi was considered to have suffered a rare public relations loss by
refusing to allow Aung Shwe to meet Khin Nyunt unless she and other top
leaders were present.
Though Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has long called for
political dialogue, many in her party feared last week's offer of limited
talks was a government bid to divide the leadership and weaken the opposition.
It was unclear whether the regime's apparent softening represented a
breakthrough in Burma's political deadlock or if the government simply felt
confident enough to allow a small number of opponents to meet without fear of
Maj. Gen. Khin Maung Than, Rangoon military region commander, summoned Soe
Mying, a member of the NLD central executive committee, to inform him the
meeting could take place, the statement said.
About 600 NLD members have been invited to attend the gathering, which marks
the ninth anniversary of the group's founding after an uprising against
military rule in 1988 was violently quelled.
Four hundred people arrived in Rangoon from outlying districts, although it
appeared some would be turned back.
Access to University Avenue, leading to Suu Kyi's home, has been restricted by
police for a year to prevent weekend rallies outside her house-once attended
by upwards of 10,000 people-following her release in July 1995 from six years
of house arrest.
During the past year, the government has discouraged Suu Kyi from leaving her
home to meet with supporters, though she is allowed to leave for private
This weekend's congress would be the first allowed since Suu Kyi was freed.
Before a scheduled congress in May 1996, the regime detained 262 party
members. Party officials said more than 800 were arrested in September last
Although most were later released after a couple of weeks, a few dozen were
held and are now serving long prison sentences.
"I don't think the authorities will hinder this meeting from taking place,"
said a party official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Party officials said local military authorities in Irrawaddy Division, located
south of Rangoon, had intimidated NLD members into staying away from the
capital. Otherwise, party members were not stopped from traveling to Rangoon.
In his invitation to party members, Aung Shwe said the congress will analyze
the party's work in its nine-year existence and discuss ways to implement its
The ruling council is believed to have come under quiet pressure from the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations to break the political deadlock in
exchange for bringing in Burma as a member this year.
ASEAN rejected Western calls to deny membership to Burma in protest of the
repression of democrats and ethnic minorities.