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Burma's Military Government Prepares to Re-Open Constitutional Convention


Burma's military leaders are preparing to re-open a constitutional convention, which they say is a first step toward bringing democracy after decades of military rule. Critics say the conference lacks legitimacy because of a boycott by major opposition groups.

The military government of Burma is re-convening the national convention on Thursday to draft a constitution and organize elections. More than one thousand delegates have gathered here - representing ethnic minorities, former rebels and civilians from various sectors of society.

However, Burma's largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy, is boycotting the meeting because its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her deputy, U Tin Oo, remain under house arrest, 15 months after a crackdown on the party.

A party official who was released from prison in November, Ohn Maung, says without the N.L.D., the convention lacks credibility.

"What S.P.D.C. (the military government) is trying to do is to legalize the military administration in this country, to be legalized by adopting a constitution which is not quite democratic. That is why our leaders are demanding to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and vice chairman of the party retired general Tin Oo and other political leaders."

Another group representing the Shan ethnic minority is also boycotting the convention for similar reasons. The national convention re-opened last May after an eight-year hiatus, but was suspended the following month.

Critics say the government selected most of the delegates and sought to control the proceedings through procedural restrictions.

Exiled dissidents have also rejected the convention process. Maung Maung, general secretary of the National Council for the Union of Burma that groups more than 65 ethnic and political groups, says the convention is aimed at deceiving the international community into thinking that genuine political reform is underway.

They (the government) are trying to say they are trying to have a democratic process in the country. And having the media in and trying to have a look at numbers of persons and the way they will be speaking is to hoodwink the international media and the international community.

Maung Maung says the Burmese government is seeking to defuse criticism among Asian governments as it prepares to assume the chairmanship late next year of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Western governments, led by the United States and the European Union, have imposed sanctions on Burma and want Asian governments to apply more pressure for reform as well. Asian governments have resisted, however, arguing engagement with its neighbor will be more effective in encouraging reform than isolation.

Q: Scott, what do you think will be the outcome of the national convention?

A: Well, many analysts believe the government will press for a quick end to the delegates' work, so that the constitution can be put to the people in a referendum before the next ASEAN summit at the end of this year.

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