US must keep `eyes open` in Myanmar talks: Suu Kyi

US Secretary of State Hillary would like to telephone Suu Kyi at some point.

Last Updated: Nov 20, 2010, 09:54 AM IST

Washington: Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed a new US engagement with Myanmar`s junta, but warned against "rose-coloured glasses" saying greater human rights and economic progress was still needed.

"There are a lot of people who say that now that the US has decided to engage with the military regime, they have turned their back on us," Suu Kyi told CNN after being freed from years of house arrest.

"I don`t think of it like that. I think engagement is a good thing," she said in comments broadcast by the US television network on Friday.

But she cautioned: "I don`t want them to go into engagement wearing rose coloured glasses. I would want them to be practical about it."

The administration of US President Barack Obama last year initiated a dialogue with Myanmar after concluding that the longstanding US policy of isolating the military regime had failed to bear fruit.

The Nobel peace laureate, who has been locked away for 15 of the last 21 years, said US officials should not be any under illusions about the real situation in her country, also known as Burma.

She stressed Washington must be "keeping your eyes open and alert and seeing what is really going on, and where engagement is leading to and what changes really need to be brought about."

"I think we would like to have more respect for human rights in Burma than at present. We would like economic progress, but I think that has to be balanced by what I would think of as accountability," she added.

Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs, has been leading the dialogue, but said in September that he had been disappointed with the results so far.

State Department officials said on Friday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had sent a letter in recent days to Suu Kyi and would likely telephone her at some point.

"We believe there needs to be a strong, unified, firm message that there needs to be change in Burma," said State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley.

He stressed that Washington places "a special responsibility on the government of Burma to guarantee" Suu Kyi`s safety as she reconstitutes her party and meets with her advisors.

"Ultimately, Burma has to change," Crowley said. "It has to have greater political space. It has to have a meaningful dialogue with other ethnic groups. That`s the only way that Burma`s going to be able to move away from its current isolation."

The US administration has also renewed calls for the Myanmar authorities to release all of the country`s estimated 2,100 political prisoners.

Suu Kyi was released from house arrest less than a week after a controversial election that cemented the junta`s decades-long grip on power but was widely criticised by democracy activists and Western leaders as a sham.

Asked by CNN whether she feared being arrested again, Suu Kyi said: "So many people ask me this question and the only thing I can say is, I don`t know. It`s always a possibility. After all they have arrested me several times in the past.”

"There`s nothing to say that they won`t arrest me again," she added. "But you can`t keep thinking about that, you just have to keep on with your work."

CNN said it had not been officially given permission to visit Myanmar during the elections, but its reporter had spent 16 days in the military-run country in what they called a kind of "covert operation”.

The images of the brief conversation with Suu Kyi were released on Friday when CNN`s correspondent was back in Bangkok, Thailand.

As the daughter of the nation`s assassinated independence hero Aung San, the soft-spoken 65-year-old carries a weight of expectation among her followers for a better future after almost half a century of military dictatorship.

The mother of two is also hoping that her youngest son Kim Aris, who lives in Britain, will be able travel to Yangon.

Aris had arrived in the Thai capital of Bangkok ahead of his mother`s release, but it remained unclear whether he has received a visa to enter Myanmar.

Suu Kyi`s struggle has come at a high personal cost: her British husband died in 1999 and, in the final stages of his battle with cancer, the junta refused him a visa to see his wife. She has never met her grandchildren.

Bureau Report