Aung San Suu Kyi meets with Burma’s president in milestone talks

Burma’s president, Thein Sein, has opened unprecedented talks with Aung San Suu Kyi and other political rivals as Barack Obama called for “inclusive and credible” elections in the country in 2015.

Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi walked into the meeting together on Thursday to begin talks that are the first of their kind as Burma emerges from decades of outright military rule.

The meeting in the capital, Naypyidaw, came a day after the White House said Obama spoke to Thein Sein and Suu Kyi about the polls. The US president visits Burma in a fortnight.

Obama “underscored the need for an inclusive and credible process for conducting the 2015 elections” during telephone talks with Thein Sein, said a White House statement.

Burmese authorities have set down the country’s landmark elections for the last week of October or the first week of November 2015.

Myanmar’s last general election in 2010 was marred by widespread accusations of cheating and were held without Aung San Suu Kyi – who was kept under lock and key until days after the vote – or her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Obama also spoke to Suu Kyi about how Washington can “support efforts to promote tolerance, respect for diversity and a more inclusive political environment”, the White House said.

The talks come as Burma grapples with political and constitutional questions and the search for a nationwide ceasefire to several rebellions.

In 2012 byelections the NLD won almost every seat available and she become an MP for the first time. The NLD is now expected to win a major slice of the legislature in the 2015 vote after which parliament will select a president.

But the 69-year-old veteran democracy activist, who spent more than a decade under house arrest during the junta years, is currently barred from the presidency by the constitution, which says anyone whose spouse or children are foreign nationals cannot become president. The Nobel laureate’s late husband was British, as are her two sons, and many believe the clause was crafted specifically to rule her out.

Burma has promised the vote will be the most free in the country’s modern history after the military ceded direct power to a quasi-civilian government three years ago.

Thein Sein has surprised the international community with a number of dramatic reforms that have seen international sanctions removed and most political prisoners freed. The government has set its sights on ending multiple civil wars with armed ethnic minority rebels.

But the country still faces myriad challenges – including the rebellions, an opaque legal system, creaking infrastructure and significant poverty levels.