YANGON, Nov 8 (Reuters) A path to ''substantive dialogue'' between Myanmar's junta and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been opened, US special envoy Ibrahim Gambari said today.
''We now have a process going which would lead to substantive dialogue between the Government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as a key instrument in promoting national reconciliation in an all-inclusive manner,'' he said in a statement.
''The sooner such a dialogue can start, the better for Myanmar,'' Gambari said at the end of a six-day visit to the former Burma, a country ruled by the military for an unbroken period of 45 years.
The statement gave no clues on what progress Gambari had made in his mission to persuade the junta, which crushed pro-democracy protests in September, to do a deal with Suu Kyi. She has spent 12 of the last 18 years in detention.
But it said Gambari would return to Myanmar in the next few weeks and continue talks ''to achieve the goals which we all share; prosperity, democracy and full respect for human rights''.
Suu Kyi had authorised Gambari to issue a statement on her behalf ''upon the close of his mission'', the statement said.
However, there were no immediate signs of substantial progress in coaxing the ruling junta towards reform today.
After an hour-long meeting with Gambari, Suu Kyi was returned under armed escort to house arrest at her lakeside villa in Yangon.
Gambari, who also met monks and three senior members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, left for the airport to return to UN headquarters in New York.
He is to brief members of the Security Council next week on his second visit since at least 10 people, and probably more, were killed in September's ruthless suppression of the biggest pro-democracy protests in nearly 20 years.
HARSH TONE The day before he landed, the junta set the tone, summoning the UN's top resident diplomat to its new capital to tell him he would be kicked out for a statement linking August's fuel price protests to the dire state of the economy.
Gambari then failed to secure a follow-up meeting with junta supremo Than Shwe and had a proposal for three-way talks on political reform including himself, Suu Kyi and the military rejected as premature.
The junta then launched into an extraordinary tirade against the United Nations, accusing it of being biased, interfering and subservient to the whims of the United States.
The four-page ''clarification on Myanmar's situation'' carried in state media also showed disdain for anything but the junta's seven-step ''democracy roadmap'', which Western governments have dismissed as a sham to cement the generals' grip on power.
Diplomats, who had seen a sliver of hope in Gambari's two visits, were stunned.
''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 only hope is that the generals take Gambari's idea of three-way dialogue, rehash it and then represent it as their own initiative, former Australian ambassador Trevor Wilson said.
''They won't accept any proposition like this unless they can demonstrate it's not outside pressure and outside interference,'' Wilson said. ''They very often don't come at something first time around, particularly if it's not something they thought of.'' Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won 1990 elections by a landslide, but was denied power by the military, which has ruled in one form or another since a 1962 coup.
During that time, the economy -- one of Asia's brightest prospects on independence from Britain in 1948 -- has collapsed under the weight of disastrous experiments with home-grown socialism, corruption and, latterly, some Western sanctions.
REUTERS MS RN1815