By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MANILA — The Philippine president has urged Burma's military junta to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest next month as a gesture of national reconciliation.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made the appeal in a meeting last week with Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein on the sidelines of an aborted Asian summit in Thailand, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said Friday.
Arroyo urged Burma to release Suu Kyi in May, when the extension of her house arrest expires, saying it would create "tremendous goodwill for Myanmar [Burma] from the international community," the department said in a statement.
Arroyo, who has survived four coup attempts and three impeachment bids, suggested that the junta consider following her approach of reaching out to the opposition "in the spirit of reconciliation and national unity," it said.
"As a neighbor of Myanmar, the Philippines has a deep sense of friendship with the people of Myanmar. We only have your country and your people's welfare at heart. This is the single, most concrete piece of advice and experience I can share with you," the statement quoted Arroyo as saying.
It said Thein Sein expressed appreciation for Arroyo's suggestions and said his government would take them into account.
He said his government is committed to its program of democratization and reconciliation, citing the adoption of a new constitution last year as a "critical first step." The government also is preparing for general elections next year, he added.
The constitution, drafted under the junta's influence without input from the pro-democracy movement, was passed by a national referendum last May, but the opposition charges that the vote was unfair.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing pro-democracy demonstrations and killing as many as 3,000 people.
It called elections in 1990 but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly. Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the last 19 years under house arrest.
Last week's Asian summit in Thailand was canceled when anti-government demonstrators stormed the seaside venue.