Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Foreign pressure piles up on Myanmar

RELEASE DEMANDED Washington has labelled the former Burma an `extraordinary threat,' as constitutional talks started without pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi

REUTERS AND AP , YANGON

Western leaders yesterday piled pressure on Myanmar's military rulers to release democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi and include her political party in constitutional talks widely dismissed as a sham.

As the junta kicked off a constitutional convention without the Nobel peace laureate, the harshest comments predictably came from Washington, where President George W. Bush labelled the former Burma an "extraordinary threat" to US interests.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging southeast Asian nations to pressure Myanmar to release Suu Kyi.

The EU expressed "disappointment and concern" and was joined by the United States, Malaysia and Thailand in criticizing the junta.

Unusually strong words from the Thai prime minister suggest Myanmar's normally non-interfering neighbors are increasingly embarrassed by the junta, which takes over the chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2006.

Thaksin Shinawatra, whose Bangkok government has a policy of constructive engagement with diplomatically isolated Yangon, said he was quite concerned over the junta's lack of democratic pro-gress and indicated it had duped him over Suu Kyi.

"We understood they would release her in time to attend the meeting," Thaksin said.

Despite the absence of Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Myanmar opened its National Convention on Monday to draft the constitution the country does not have.

Delegates to the constitutional convention have been told they cannot walk out of meetings or make any anti-national remarks.

A code of ethics and discipline, published in a state newspaper yesterday, is apparently aimed at ensuring that the National Convention will not be marred by ugly scenes or a show of dissent against the military rulers.

Soon after the opening ceremony, Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan read out a "code of ethics and discipline to be followed by the delegates to ensure the successful holding of the National Convention," the official Myanma Ahlin daily reported.

"The regulations are prescribed not for repression but for the interest of the national races and the delegates," Kyaw Hsan told the delegates.

The delegates were told not to express disloyalty to the state, not to discuss "irrelevant matters," and not to accept any other country's patronage.

The forum is the first step in the junta's so-called "road map to democracy" unveiled in August last year. Critics dismiss it as a smokescreen to keep the generals in power.

For now, Annan is siding with the critics, saying the process lacks credibility without the country's chief democracy activist, who won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power.

However, diplomats say the reaction from ASEAN is now all the more important, given the relative increase in its commercial and diplomatic clout after the US and EU slapped sanctions on Yangon over Suu Kyi's detention.

ASEAN's next step is difficult to predict, diplomats say, given that its plan to admit Myanmar in 1997 in the hope of nurturing democratic transition has been exposed as fanciful at best.

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