Burmese dissident meets junta leaders


YANGON, Myanmar -- For more than five years, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been a ghost to the people of her homeland, her image considered so dangerous to the generals who run Myanmar, that they refused to allow her face to be seen on a television screen or in a newspaper.

So when Burmese picked up yesterday's copy of the government-controlled newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, the common reaction was a startled shake of the head and a carefully hidden grin.

"Oh, she looks so thin -- too thin," said a 23-year-old student of Mrs. Suu Kyi, the Burmese dissident leader and Nobel laureate who is in her sixth year under house arrest. "But at least she is smiling."

And she was smiling, serenely, in one of the two large photographs that showed her meeting for the first time ever with her jailers: the two army generals who run the military government of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

"It is learned that it was a cordial meeting," the newspaper said in its two-sentence account of Tuesday's encounter, an event that many Burmese clearly hope will be a turning point for this country of 42 million people on its road to democracy.

"I know how the black South Africans might have felt," said a teacher.

"Suddenly, one day, the government in South Africa decided that that the people could see the face of Nelson Mandela after all his years in prison. Now, our government says we can once again look at the face of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. When we see her face, we feel there are many possibilities for our country."

Diplomats said that indications were good, though they had not yet received any authoritative accounts of her meeting with Gen. Than Shwe, the titular head of the junta, and Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the head of military intelligence.

"Apparently the meeting went on for at least an hour, which means they weren't just discussing the weather," said one diplomat.

Burmese state television offered a brief videotaped segment in which the generals are shown laughing as they chat with Mrs. Suu Kyi.

The dissident leader, 49, did look thin to the point of frailty. Friends say that she is in fact not much thinner now than when she campaigned in 1988 for the democracy movement. She was placed under house arrest in July 1989.

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