Amid signs of an unprecedented thaw in relations, Myanmar's democracy champion and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi said on Saturday that she was "encouraged" by her first talks with the country's nominally civilian president.
After a one hour meeting, the first between the two since 1994, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged telling reporters
"I am glad to see him and I am encouraged."
Suu Kyi was told in June to stay out of politics and warned that a political tour could spark chaos and riots. But Myanmar's government led by Thein Sein, a former junta prime minister, has since appeared to want to soften its image.
In recent weeks Suu Kyi has held two rounds of talks with labour minister Aung Kyi in Yangon and has written an open letter offering to aid ceasefire talks between the military and ethnic rebels.
However, academics have suggested that the government could curtail Ms. Suu Kyi's movements if she continues attracting large crowds or buoys political criticism beyond the confines of the country's new legislature.
Report: Myanmar's Suu Kyi 'encouraged' by talks (AFP, 20 August 2011)
In another sign the new government is seeking to improve its image, UN rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana has been granted permission to visit Myanmar from Sunday for the first time in more than a year.
Quintana has been a vocal critic of Myanmar's rulers, enraging the junta after his last trip by suggesting that human rights violations in the country may amount to crimes against humanity and could warrant a UN inquiry. The international community has called for a number of reforms in Myanmar including the release of around 2,000 political prisoners.
Quintana’s five-day visit is expected to evaluate the human rights situation in light of a “Myanmar under new political management”. By Thursday, he may issue a statement about reason for cautious optimism and more reason to keep watching developments.
In the eyes of the international community the latest developments in Myanmar are significant, but the government's motives are unclear. David Mathieson, a Thailand-based Myanmar researcher with Human Rights Watch, said it was impossible to say whether the recent conciliatory gestures were "complete theatre" or "a real moment of change".
He added: "We simply don't know the inner workings of the new government. But in terms of basic freedoms and whether the human rights situation is improving, definitely not at all."
Report: Myanmar's Suu Kyi meets president for first time (Channel News Asia, 19 August 2011)
One motive may be that Asean is scheduled to decide on Myanmar’s chairmanship at a November meeting in Bali. Earlier this year, Thein Sein had personally requested Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, representing the current Asean chair, to support its 2014 bid. Myanmar's earlier bid had been bypassed when its turn came earlier owing to “unfinished business at home”.
Report: Generals in Retreat? (Malaysian Star, 21 August 2011)