Myanmar appoints `moderate' to liaise with opposition


Wed, Oct 10, 2007 - Page 1

The junta's choice to liaise with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a moderate general with a good track record of dealing with UN agencies, analysts said yesterday.

State media announced late on Monday that deputy labor minister Aung Kyi had been tasked with ensuring "smooth relations" with the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has spent most of the last 18 years under house arrest.

In a government dominated by reclusive hardliners, Major General Aung Kyi is one of the few willing to work with the UN and neighboring countries to improve the nation's standing, analysts said.

"He is very reasonable and has dealt with international organizations before," Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Win Min said.

"It's a good sign that they intend to communicate with her directly," Win Min said. "He's not just a messenger, he can be a really dynamic guy."

But there were also warnings that the appointment could be another effort to cool mounting pressure at the UN Security Council, which is considering a statement condemning the regime's deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters.

"We must remain cautious," said one Western diplomat who has had extensive dealings with the regime, warning that no one knows how much authority the general has been given.

"Is there anything serious behind this? Will he be able to operate freely?" the diplomat said.

Nonetheless, Aung Kyi has a reputation as an intelligent, moderate general who understands the workings of the outside world, he said.

When the UN's International Labor Organization (ILO) last year threatened to haul Myanmar before the International Court of Justice over forced labor complaints, the junta brought in Aung Kyi to defuse the situation.

He was named deputy labor minister in November and by March the regime had reached a deal with the ILO to launch a new system for handling complaints of forced labor.

"We have found him constructive and professional and open to discussing all matters, also controversial issues," ILO executive director Kari Tapiola said in an e-mail interview.

"Aung Kyi obviously is also politically well connected. Although he is deputy minister, he seems to report directly to the senior leadership," Tapiola said.

Aung Kyi's tactics were a dramatic shift toward diplomacy, rather than heavy-handed intimidation that had been used in Yangon, where the ILO officer had previously received death threats.