Burma's military government says it remains committed to democracy, and will hold elections, despite a recent leadership shakeup that consolidated the power of hard-line generals. The announcement was made in Laos on the eve of the summit of Southeast Asian nations, and came as Burma released thousands of prisoners from jails across the country.
Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win says the military-led government remains committed to its "roadmap" toward democracy, despite the dismissal last month of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt who originally announced the process.
Nyan Win said through an interpreter that the government will re-convene a suspended national convention in February to draft a new constitution: "Because we are committed to democracy, there will be no turning back. Once a new constitution is drafted and adopted by the people through referendum, elections will be held, in keeping with the constitution."
The foreign minister said the government intends to continue negotiating with ethnic-based rebels. But he indicated that the opposition National League for Democracy, which won elections in 1990, but was not allowed to govern, would not be included in the democratization process, because it boycotted the national convention earlier this year.
The government in May re-convened the convention for two months, but the National League for Democracy boycotted because of the continued house-arrest of its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and what it said were attempts by the junta to control the process.
The foreign minister's remarks came as delegates gather in Laos for a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Burma is expected to come under questioning over the lack of progress toward democracy and the continued detention of the Nobel peace prize winner. The summit opens Monday.
Mr. Nyan Win confirmed that thousands of detainees are being released across Burma, but he was evasive about whether Aung San Suu Kyi is to be among them: "Those released number over nine-thousand. Because of the large number, it is not normal for me to name names, but if you would wait and observe, you will probably have the names."
National League for Democracy leaders in Rangoon say most of those released have been ordinary criminals, but about 30 are considered political prisoners, and several are prominent National League for Democracy leaders. A prisons official told reporters that several thousand had already been freed by Friday evening.
Burmese officials say the detainees are being released because they were wrongly arrested by the recently disbanded Military Intelligence Bureau, headed by Khin Nyunt. Critics say the releases are aimed at defusing criticism during the ASEAN summit.