Myanmar president opens unprecedented talks with Suu Kyi, army

Myanmar president opens unprecedented talks with Suu Kyi, army

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar - Myanmar President Thein Sein opened unprecedented talks with army top brass and political rivals including Aung San Suu Kyi Friday, as US President Barack Obama called for "inclusive and credible" elections in the country next year.

Thein Sein and Suu Kyi walked into the meeting together to begin talks that are the first of their kind in the nation as it moves to emerge from decades of outright military rule.

The meeting in the capital Naypyidaw comes a day after the White House said Obama spoke to Thein Sein and Suu Kyi about the polls, less than a fortnight before the US leader visits Myanmar.

Obama "underscored the need for an inclusive and credible process for conducting the 2015 elections" during telephone talks with Thein Sein, the White House said in a statement.

Last week Myanmar authorities announced the country's landmark elections would be held in the last week of October or the first week of November 2015.

Myanmar's last general election in 2010 was marred by widespread accusations of cheating and were held without Suu Kyi, who was kept under lock and key until days after the vote, or her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Obama also spoke to Suu Kyi about how Washington can "support efforts to promote tolerance, respect for diversity, and a more inclusive political environment", the White House said Thursday.

The talks in Myanmar come as the fast-changing nation grapples with thorny political and constitutional questions and the search for a nationwide ceasefire to several rebellions.

In 2012 by-elections Suu Kyi's party won almost every seat available and she become an MP for the first time. The NLD is now expected to win a major slice of the legislature in the 2015 vote after which parliament will select a president.

But the 69-year-old veteran democracy 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.

The charter says anyone whose spouse or children are foreign nationals cannot become president. The Nobel laureate's late husband was British, as are her two sons.

Many believe the clause was crafted specifically to thwart her political rise.

Myanmar has 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.

Thein Sein has surprised the international community with a number of dramatic reforms that have seen international sanctions removed as the country opens up to the world.

Most political prisoners have been freed, Suu Kyi has entered parliament and the government has set its sights on ending multiple civil wars with armed ethnic minority rebels.

But the country still faces a myriad of challenges - including ongoing armed rebellions, an opaque legal system, creaking infrastructure and significant poverty levels -- that will need to be tackled by any new government after next year's election.

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