NAYPYITAW, Myanmar – Myanmar’s president hosted talks Friday that brought together opposition leader and the nation’s military chief for the first time, a meeting that appeared timed to showcase the Southeast Asian nation’s ongoing reforms ahead of a regional summit that will be attended by President Barack Obama in less than two weeks.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is constitutionally barred from running for president in next year’s election, has been calling for such a meeting for nearly a year to discuss Myanmar’s political reforms. Until now, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate had been repeatedly rebuffed.
Information Minister Ye Htut told reporters after the talks ended that all parties discussed the reform process, the prospects of a nationwide cease-fire with ethnic rebel groups by the end of the year and holding free elections in 2015.
Suu Kyi’s party has pushed unsuccessfully for the constitution to be amended so the lawmaker can run for the presidency, but no breakthroughs were announced. She cannot enter the race because her sons hold British citizenship.
After winning international praise for helping steer the country from dictatorship to democracy, President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government is facing mounting criticism that early political reforms and peace talks with ethnic rebels have stalled.
On Thursday, Obama discussed his upcoming visit to Myanmar in separate telephone conversations with Thein Sein and Suu Kyi. Obama underscored the need for an inclusive and credible process for conducting elections next year, the White House said. He also stressed the importance of addressing tensions in Rakhine State, where more than 100,000 members of a Muslim minority have fled attacks and persecution over the last two years.
Critics said Friday’s meeting would be little more than window dressing _ an attempt to show participants at an upcoming East Asia Summit that political dialogue is continuing. The summit will be held in Myanmar next month.
More than a dozen other political and party leaders also took part, including military chief Min Aung Hlaing, who plays a crucial political role under the country’s constitution and has veto power over constitutional amendments.