Page last updated at 04:35 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 05:35 UK

US Burma trip begins long process

Burmese senior general Than Shwe (centre) with other junta leaders at Nya Pyi Taw airport - 2 October 2009
Burma has been ruled by its military since 1962

A senior American diplomat has said the US will send what he described as a fact-finding mission to Burma soon.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, said the trip would follow up on his talks in New York last month with a Burmese envoy.

That meeting with minister U Thang was the highest US contact with Burma's military government in nearly a decade.

The West is seeking new ways to promote dialogue between the military junta and the imprisoned democratic opposition.

Mr Campbell said he expected engagement with Burma to be a "long, slow and painful" process.

Tentative steps

He said the American mission would talk to Burma's military government, representatives of ethnic minorities, and the pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"We intend to go to Burma in the next few weeks for a fact-finding mission," Mr Campbell told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

He did not specify who would take part in the trip, but another official said Mr Campbell hoped to go himself but it would depend on whether the junta gives him access to the opposition.

Mr Campbell also said that the dialogue would "supplement rather than replace the sanction regimes that has been at the centre of our Burma policy for many years".

"We will not judge the success of our effort at pragmatic engagement by the results of a handful of meetings. Engagement for its own sake is obviously not a goal for US policy," he said.

The fact-finders' goal, he said, was to gain a better understanding of the junta, which he described as "a group of men that have self-isolated themselves".

The military regime has scheduled elections for next year which the opposition National League for Democracy plans to shun.

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed by the junta to meet senior Western diplomats earlier this month for talks focused on the long-standing Western sanctions.

Reports suggest Ms Suu Kyi has softened her views on sanctions in recent times, concluding they are adversely affecting the lives of ordinary Burmese while the military rulers still manage to conduct trade with China and other neighbours.

The junta has kept Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the past two decades after her National League for Democracy swept elections in 1990 but was barred from taking power.

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