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U.S. top diplomat talks with Myanmar's government

The top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar was summoned for rare talks Friday with Myanmar's hardline government a day after its leader announced a conditional offer to meet with detained democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Diplomats and opposition figures were skeptical that the offer was genuine but, nonetheless, expressed hope that the meeting with Suu Kyi - something she has requested for years - would materialize.

Shari Villarosa, the highest American official in Myanmar, received word Thursday that she had been invited to meet with the military-led government that orchestrated a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters last week, the State Department said in Washington.

Villarosa has been a vocal critic of the crackdown. During her visit, Villarosa was expected to repeat the U.S. view that the regime must meet with democratic opposition groups and "stop the iron crackdown" on peaceful demonstrators, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

The talks were being held in Naypyitaw, the regime's remote capital carved out of the jungle about 385 kilometers (240 miles) north of Yangon.

Hoping to deflect outrage over soldiers gunning down protesters, Myanmar's junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe announced that he was willing to talk with Suu Kyi, the democratic opposition leader - but only if she stops calling for international sanctions.

Than Shwe also insisted that Suu Kyi stop urging her countrymen to confront the military regime, state television and radio said in reporting on the conditions set by the junta leader during a meeting this week with a special U.N. envoy.

The surprise move appeared to stave off economic sanctions, thereby keeping Myanmar's bountiful natural resources on world markets, while also pleasing giant neighbor China, which worries the unrest could cause problems for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The state media announcement came a few hours before U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari briefed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on his four-day trip seeking to persuade Myanmar's military leaders to end the crackdown on democracy activists.

Many governments have urged stern U.N. Security Council action against Myanmar, but members China and Russia have ruled out any council action, saying the crisis does not threaten international peace and security.

"This issue does not belong to the Security Council," China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Gunagya said Thursday. "These problems still we believe are basically internal."

"No international imposed solution can help the situation," he added.

State media in Myanmar gave new figures Thursday for the number of people arrested during last week's bloody assault by troops. The reports said nearly 2,100 people had been detained, with almost 700 already released.

The government has said 10 people were killed when security forces broke up the mass demonstrations, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of Buddhist monks who were leading the protests.

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