Faint hope for Myanmar as Suu Kyi meets her party

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YANGON, Nov 9 (Reuters) Detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was due to meet leaders of her party today for the first time in more than three years amid cautious hope she and the junta may start talks on political reform.

The Nobel laureate, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest, will also hold a second meeting with General Aung Kyi, a go-between appointed as a result of world outrage at September's bloody crackdown on democracy protests.

In a statement released on her behalf by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari after his second visit in a month, Suu Kyi described her initial contact with Aung Kyi as constructive and said she was ready to work with the military to establish proper negotiations.

''In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success,'' she said, in her first public comments since her latest period of detention began in May 2003.

Aanalysts said a junta statement that it would ''make efforts steadfastly for national reconciliation with the correct cooperation of the U.N. Secretary General'' also gave some cause for hope.

That said, the military, which has been in charge for the last 45 years, has made -- and broken -- such promises before.

''They have always acted in bad faith. These are people who hold generals elections that they then ignore. They are not famous for sticking to their words,'' said Dominic Faulder, a Bangkok-based journalist who has covered the former Burma for the last 20 years.

''The pessimists have always been right in Burma, but one day, once, they will be wrong.'' SURPRISE BREAKTHROUGH? The early signs from Gambari's six-day mission, his second visit since the crackdown in which at least 10 people, and probably many more, were killed, were not good.

He failed to meet junta supremo Than Shwe and had to endure a tirade from Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, who accused the UN of being biased, meddling and subject to the whim of Washington.

However, as Gambari left for Singapore, the UN said he had managed to establish a path to ''substantive dialogue'' between the generals and Suu Kyi, whose party won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power by the military.

Gambari will brief the Security Council at UN headquarters in New York next week.

He will also return to Myanmar in ''coming weeks'' to try to keep the pressure on a regime that thrives on isolation and has so far been impervious to outside influence.

Although the UN gave no details of what appeared to be a surprise breakthrough, Suu Kyi's statement alluded to regular contact between her and the junta, or State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as it calls itself.

''I expect that this phase of preliminary consultation will conclude soon, so that a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible,'' she said.

However, the tone of the junta's earlier rant against the UN, in which it also rejected Gambari's proposal of three-way talks with himself and Suu Kyi, left diplomats dispirited.

''There's no doubt in my mind that this regime has no intention of cooperating with Gambari or of starting a process of genuine political dialogue,'' one Yangon-based diplomat said. ''It's beyond them.'' The day before Gambari's arrival, the junta also told the top UN resident diplomat he was being expelled for linking August's fuel price protests to the dire state of the economy, one of Asia's brightest prospects on independence from Britain in 1948.

The protests snowballed quickly into the biggest uprising against military rule since 1988, when the army crushed an uprising with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives.

REUTERS AM BD1035

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