Myanmar president calls unprecedented talks with rival parties, army

Myanmar president calls unprecedented talks with rival parties, army

YANGON - Myanmar's president has called an unprecedented summit of army top brass and political rivals including Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, political figures said on Thursday, a year ahead of crucial elections.

The talks, scheduled for Friday in the capital Naypyidaw, are the first of their kind in the country that is attempting to emerge from the shadow of decades of outright military rule.

Experts say the meeting comes at a critical time, with Myanmar searching for a nationwide ceasefire to several rebellions as it heads towards elections in a year's time. Those polls are seen as a key test of democratic reforms under President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government.

Confirming the talks, Mr Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the National Democratic Force party, said the meeting will cover "democratic reforms, peace and (the) transition period". The talks come just days after Myanmar's election authorities announced that the upcoming poll would be held in the last week of October or the first week of November 2015.

The Myanmar authorities have promised the vote will be the freest in the country's modern history after the military ceded direct power to a quasi-civilian government three years ago.

The meeting also follows heated parliamentary debates over constitutional and electoral reform, as well as pervasive jitters that the government, which is dominated by former junta generals, may find a reason to delay next year's poll.

"I think it's really significant, this is the first time he (Thein Sein) has had this kind of meeting," said one Western expert, who asked to remain unnamed.

There is "potential for tension to build up - this is a very important time for everyone to get on the same page".

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party is expected to win a major slice of the legislature in the 2015 vote, and Parliament will select a president following the poll.

But the 69-year-old veteran activist, who spent more than a decade under house arrest during the junta years, is currently barred from taking the top job by the Constitution.

Mr Khin Maung Swe said the meeting would include the two vice-presidents, the influential parliamentary speakers, the election commission and six main political parties.

The NLD said it was unable to confirm details of the meeting when contacted by AFP on Thursday.

Mr Sai Aik Paung, chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, hailed the meeting as an "important" step, but said more parties should have been invited.

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