YANGON – A top US diplomat was due to meet Myanmar's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday as the ruling junta faces criticism over preparations for its first elections in two decades.
President Barack Obama's administration has made dialogue with adversaries a signature policy and launched dialogue with Myanmar after concluding that longstanding Western attempts to isolate the regime had borne little fruit.
Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was scheduled to meet Suu Kyi and members of political parties as part of his two-day trip to the military-ruled country, a Myanmar government official said.
Campbell arrived in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw on Sunday and held discussions with officials including Information Minister Kyaw Hsan.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) was forcibly dissolved last week under widely criticised laws governing elections that are scheduled for later this year.
The Nobel peace laureate, 64, has been in detention for 14 of the past 20 years. Campbell met her in Yangon last November when he became the highest-ranking US official to visit Myanmar in 14 years.
Before his latest visit, Campbell said he was worried about election preparations in Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.
"We're troubled by much of what we've seen and we have very real concerns about the elections laws and the environment that's been created," Campbell told reporters in Bangkok Sunday.
Obama's top envoy for East Asia was scheduled to hold talks with former NLD members, followed by a meeting with Suu Kyi and a news conference.
The NLD refused to meet a May 6 deadline to re-register as a party -- a move that would have forced it to expel its own leader -- and boycotted the vote, which critics say is a sham designed to legitimise the junta's grip on power.
Under election legislation unveiled in March, anyone serving a prison term is banned from being a member of a political party and parties that fail to obey the rule will be abolished.
Washington faces a tricky task dealing with Myanmar, said Aung Naing Oo, an independent Myanmar analyst.
"They know they have to engage the military and the progress is probably going to be painfully slow," he told AFP.
Last week, top US Republican senator Mitch McConnell called for the renewal of tough sanctions targeting Myanmar junta leaders for their failure to make "real progress" on democratic reforms.
The NLD, which was founded in 1988 after a popular uprising against the junta that left thousands dead, won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but the junta never allowed it to take office.
A faction within the NLD said last week that it would form a new political party, to be called the National Democratic Force, to advance the movement's two-decade campaign to end military rule.
The group is expected to run in the election, led by former NLD member Than Nyein.
Suu Kyi's supporters have said they would urge the US envoy to push for a dialogue between the junta and the democracy campaigners.
"We will ask what the US government can do for Myanmar politics as a mediator or just watching from the sidelines," said a former senior NLD member, Khin Maung Swe.
There have been a series of explosions in Myanmar in recent weeks as the country gears up for elections.
Grenade attacks on April 15 in Yangon left 10 people dead and about 170 wounded. Police said last week they had arrested a man in connection with those blasts, which they blamed on an exile group set on disrupting the polls.