By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's leaders must pursue "genuine" reforms that involve Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and make progress in freeing thousands of political prisoners before ties can improve with Washington, a U.S. envoy said on Wednesday.
But the new U.S. special representative to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell, declined to identify specific conditions for lifting sanctions in place since the military crushed a 1988 student uprising.
"I consider this a highly productive visit," Mitchell told reporters at Yangon's main airport at the end of a six-day trip to the army-dominated, reclusive former British colony also known as Burma.
Mitchell met a range of officials in the capital, Naypyitaw, including Cabinet members of the nearly year-old parliament and opposition politicians led by Suu Kyi, but he did not meet President Thein Sein.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell will meet Myanmar's foreign minister in New York next week during the U.N. General Assembly, a senior U.S. official told reporters as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to San Francisco.
"There are clear ... winds of change blowing through Burma," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are trying to get a sense of how strong those winds are and whether it is possible to substantially improve our relationship."
While noting many U.S. concerns about Myanmar and saying one should not be "overly hopeful," the official noted the authorities' emerging dialogue with Suu Kyi and said more generally that Myanmar was going through "probably the most significant developments on the ground for decades."
SKEPTICISM ABOUT GENUINE REFORM
Mitchell said he asked officials to free about 2,000 political prisoners, maintain dialogue with the opposition and investigate human rights abuses. He also raised concerns about Myanmar's military relationship with North Korea.
"Progress on these issues will be essential to progress in the bilateral relationship," he said. "If the government takes genuine and concrete action, the United States will respond in kind."
Recent rare overtures by Myanmar's authoritarian rulers toward liberalization have stirred speculation of possible reforms in the resource-rich country, which has been blighted by 48 years of oppressive military rule and starved of capital.
Last month, Thein Sein held an official meeting with Suu Kyi, who was detained for 15 years until freed from house arrest last November.
"Any credible reform effort must include her participation," said Mitchell.
Most experts doubt sanctions will be lifted until political prisoners are freed. Mitchell said he held a "candid" dialogue and "very productive exchange" with Myanmar officials on the issue of political prisoners but received no commitment.
"I noted that many within the international community remain skeptical about the government's commitment to genuine reform and reconciliation, and I urged authorities to prove the skeptics wrong," he said.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in San Francisco; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Peter Cooney)