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Thialand Welcomes Burma's Move To Resume Constitutional Convention - 2004-03-31


Thailand says it is welcoming Burma's move to set a date of mid-May for a convention to draft a new constitution. Human rights groups say opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, must participate to ensure the convention's credibility.

Thailand Wednesday gave its backing to Burma's announced decision to hold a constitutional convention in May.

Calling the move a positive step toward democracy, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow says Thailand hopes the convention will bring together the military government and the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Sihasak said,"We believe that the national convention should contribute to the process of national reconciliation…"

In a bid to hurry Burma's progress, Thailand is sponsoring an international forum called the Bangkok Process aimed at restarting political reforms proposed nearly nine months ago by Burmese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt.

The military government has ruled Burma for 40 years. It last held elections in 1990, which were won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, but the military government refused to hand over power.

In 1993, Burma began negotiating a new constitution, but talks failed after the NLD withdrew, claiming government interference.

For nearly a year, the government has held Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in house detention. Human rights groups are pushing for her release prior to the constitutional convention so that the opposition's voice can be heard.

Debbie Stothard, spokeswoman for rights group The Alternative Asean Network on Burma, says the convention will fail if the government structures the meetings the way it did in the 1990s.

Ms. Stothard said,"If they are planning to resume the national convention in - and conduct it in the same way as (the military) did nine years ago, it is definitely not going to lead to reform. What we need to see is a re-organization of the way the national convention is conducted."

Ms. Stothard says rights groups remain pessimistic over Burma's progress, citing military attacks and long jail sentences imposed on political activists.

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