There are signs that the beleaguered government in Burma is warming to new approaches from western governments, with Asian diplomats reporting that the generals are willing to consider releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who marks 14 years under house arrest on Sunday.
Kazuo Kodama, the official spokesman for Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese prime minister, said Thein Sein, the Burmese prime minister, had told an Asian summit being held in Thailand that restrictions on Ms Suu Kyi may be relaxed.
“She is under house arrest and the prime minister [said] if she continues to take a good attitude then it is possible that there will be a relaxation of the measures on her,” said Mr Kodama.
Ms Suu Kyi has hinted that she might be willing to lend her moral support to the general’s efforts to have western sanctions lifted, a political gambit which won her a rare visit with western diplomats earlier this month.
Mr Kodama also said that the Burmese authorities had said that next year’s controversial elections had to be inclusive while ensuring the maintenance of law and order.
”The Myanmar [Burma] government would like to ensure that all stakeholders will take part in such a process,” he said. Ms Suu Kyi was sentenced to a further 18 months under house arrest in August after John Yettaw, an American tourist, swam across the lake behind her house, breaching the terms of a previous period of arrest.
The sentence was greeted with outrage in western capitals, where the generals who run Burma were accused of using Mr Yettaw’s uninvited visit to keep their most formidable opponent out of circulation until next year’s vote.
Mr Kodama said the Burmese leader told the heads of government of the other nine members of the Association of South East Asian Nations plus Japan, China and South Korea that both the US and Ms Suu Kyi had recently softened their attitude toward the regime.
The unprecedented hints at flexibility from the generals come on the heels of a major overhaul of western policy.
After years of trying to isolate the regime in an attempt to force them to make democratic reforms, in the past few weeks both the United States and the European Union have said they are willing to talk to the generals.
However, both have said it is too early to ease sanctions without a clear signal from the Burmese that they are willing accommodate some of the concerns of the western world.
The release of Ms Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Laureate in 1995, has been top of the list of their demands, along with guarantees that next year’s elections will be free and fair.
However, critics say the constitution the generals pushed through last year, which guarantees the military 25 per cent of the seats in the new parliament and all but ensures that the president has to come from an army background, makes that impossible.
Senior General Than Shwe, who has run the country since 1992, has said the elections are part of a seven-step plan to create ”discipline-flourishing democracy” in the country.