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Tension Eases Between Burma Junta,

By Deborah Charles 

BANGKOK, Oct 26 (Reuters) - In Burma, where every event and article in
official newspapers is carefully scrutinised for hidden meanings, analysts
and diplomats see a possible easing of tensions between the military
government and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Last week Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate, was allowed to make her
first political trip outside Rangoon since being released from house arrest
more than two years ago. 

Suu Kyi's trip to a town on the outskirts of the capital went off without any
interference from authorities who had previously stopped her from doing party
work outside the confines of her lakeside Rangoon home. 

Suu Kyi, who was officially released from six years of house arrest in July
1995, has been under tight surveillance since late 1996. The road to her
house is blocked, her visitors are limited, her telephone cut and her
movements restricted. 

She made several aborted attempts, including a widely publicised train trip
to Mandalay, to leave Rangoon on political business after being released from
house arrest. 

The trip to Thakata Township to speak to supporters and organise the youth
wing of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party was the first to be

``It's definitely positive,'' said a Rangoon-based diplomat. ``I think it is
a warming of relations.'' 

``This could signal an opening up,'' agreed another diplomat. ``A lot has
happened lately.'' 

The decision to allow Suu Kyi and other top NLD officials to visit Thakata
comes amid other signs of easing of the government's iron grip on the party. 

Last month the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) allowed the
NLD to hold a two-day meeting at Suu Kyi's house to mark the ninth
anniversary of the party's founding. 

The previous year the SLORC stopped a similar gathering by setting up
barricades and arresting hundreds of NLD officials and party members who were
planning to attend the meeting. 

Top SLORC leaders, including powerful military intelligence chief Lieutenant
General Khin Nyunt, have also held talks with top NLD officials although they
have not included Suu Kyi. 

At the party congress last month Suu Kyi thanked the SLORC for allowing the
gathering to take place and urged continued cooperation. 

``I am firmly convinced that the NLD and the authorities will be able to
cooperate holding hands together to work for the country,'' she said. 

But she also called for the release of about 1,000 political prisoners being
held by the government, and demanded the SLORC honour the results of the 1990
general election, where a sweeping NLD victory was never recognised by the

Diplomats and local analysts, who all agreed that change would inch along
very slowly in Burma, warned that this apparent easing of relations was only
a first step. 

``When they start releasing political prisoners and removing the barricades
then we'll know there's been real progress,'' the first diplomat said. 

``I look at it all somewhat cautiously. It is still too early to say for sure
how relations are between the two sides,'' a Burmese political analyst said. 

``Future progress will certainly depend on both sides; they must be willing
to cooperate.'' 

Both Suu Kyi and the SLORC have been stubborn over the past few years,
unwilling to budge in their convictions. 

But diplomats think maybe both sides now realise compromise is necessary. 

``She's made some conciliatory gestures,'' a diplomat said in reference to
Suu Kyi's comments at the September NLD meting. ``Now they're building up
trust between the two sides.'' 

``They've been slinging mud at each other for so long it will take time.'' 

Diplomats said some low-level talks between the SLORC and the NLD would
likely be the next step. 

Although Suu Kyi has made it clear she must be included in any real dialogue
with the SLORC, diplomats said the NLD realises groundwork could be laid by

``I think the NLD is coming around to the idea that they can have low-level
meetings without her as long as the intention is to have Suu Kyi involved in
the end,'' one diplomat said.