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Opposition to Boycott Burma's Constitutional Convention - 2004-05-15


Burma's military government says it will go ahead with plans for a constitutional convention beginning Monday, despite the main opposition party's refusal to participate.

The National League for Democracy said Friday it will not take part in the convention because its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest. The NLD says the junta also has ignored other key conditions that would have allowed opposition members to take part in drafting a new national charter.

Military officials in Rangoon responded to the NLD's decision quickly, announcing it will push ahead with the constitutional meeting -- as an official statement said -- "in the interests of national unity." The generals who rule Burma have said a new constitution is the first step in their so-called "road map to democracy" plan for the country.

However, without participation by the NLD and other opposition groups that also intend to boycott the convention meeting, analysts say the drafting process will lose its credibility.

At the United Nations (Friday), Secretary General Kofi Annan 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 says the secretary-general has been disappointed by recent developments in Burma. Mr. Annan has urged Rangoon to re-open the NLD's offices and remove restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi and her party's vice chairman, Tin Oo -- both of whom were taken into custody last year, following a confrontation between opposition members and government supporters.

In Washington, U.S. Senator John McCain said Burma must free Aung San Suu Kryi and Tin Oo if it is serious about moving toward 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.

Officials in Thailand said they regret the latest developments, because the constitutional convention should be a symbol of national reconciliation worthy of all parties' support.

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