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Burma: Constitutional Convention To Proceed Despite Boycott - 2004-05-14


Burma's military government says next week's constitutional convention will proceed, even without the main opposition National League for Democracy attending.

A government statement was issued late Friday, after the pro-democracy party said it will boycott the convention, which is set to begin on Monday. The party blamed the government's refusal to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest so she could attend the gathering.

At the United Nations, Secretary General Kofi Annan today (Friday) urged Burma's government and the opposition to reach a compromise that would allow Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in the meeting.

A spokesman for Mr. Annan said the secretary general is disappointed with recent developments in Burma. He said Mr. Annan has urged Rangoon to re-open the offices of the National League for Democracy, or NLD, and remove restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi and her party's vice chairman, Tin Oo.

The two, along with other party leaders, were taken into custody last year following a confrontation between opposition members and pro-government demonstrators.

In Washington, U.S. Senator John McCain said Burma must free the two if it is serious about taking steps on the path towards democracy. Mr. McCain also said he supports the NLD's decision to boycott the convention, which he said was only organized to ease international pressure on Burma.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell has also praised the opposition party for its boycott, saying its members have remained true to their objectives and convictions by making the move.

But officials in Thailand said they regret the NLD decision. A Thai foreign ministry spokesman said Bangkok considers the constitutional convention as a symbol of national reconciliation that all parties should support.

The Burmese military's previous attempt to hold a constitutional convention in the 1990's fell apart after the opposition walked out, calling the process a sham.

Information for this report is provided by AFP and Reuters.

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