April 10, 2015 / 1:12 PM / in 3 years

Myanmar's government, military leaders hold rare talks with Suu Kyi

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi held rare talks with President Thein Sein and military leaders on Friday to discuss a general election, a controversial constitution and a ceasefire with ethnic minority rebels, a participant said.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi attends Myanmar's top six-party talks at the Presidential palace in Naypyitaw April 10, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Thein Sein’s government has launched a series of political and economic reforms since taking power in 2011, after nearly 50 years of military rule, but many people feel the reform process has stalled, with the military still holding extensive power.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi was scathing about what she called Thein Sein’s “hardline regime” in an interview with Reuters this month, saying boycotting the election expected in November was an “option” if a military-drafted constitution that grants substantial political power to the military remained unchanged.

The meeting in the capital, Naypyitaw, included army chief General Min Aung Hlaing, the speakers of both houses of parliament and Aye Maung, a representative of ethnic minority parties.

It was only the second time all such top officials had met, after a similar gathering last October ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

“We discussed three things: the constitutional amendment, the upcoming election and the peace agreement in a very friendly and cordial atmosphere,” Aye Maung told Reuters.

The two-hour meeting will be seen as a positive step after worry both at home and abroad about the pace of reforms and Suu Kyi’s recent comments.

Aye Maung declined to give any more details of the talks but said the participants had agreed to meet again before parliament resumes on May 10.

Zaw Htay, a senior official in the Office of the President, said in a Facebook post that the leaders had reached common ground on a framework, format and timing for dialogue.

Spokesmen for Suu Kyi’s party were not available for comment.

The constitution, drafted by the former junta, reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military delegates, which effectively allows them to veto any constitutional change.

It also bars presidential candidates with a foreign spouse or child. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British as are her two sons.

The government has said it wants to achieve a national ceasefire before the elections, and last week government and ethnic negotiators agreed on the text of a draft agreement.

Additional reporting by Jared Ferrie; Editing by Robert Birsel

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