Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar will hold convention to draft a constitution

RIFE WITH DIFFICULTY Many of the country's parties are boycotting the conference, and several of the party leaders can't attend because they are being detained


Myanmar yesterday reconvened a constitution-drafting conference that Western nations and domestic opponents have denounced as a sham that will not lead to democracy as claimed by the military government.

The pro-democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi was boycotting the National Convention because of the junta's refusal to release the Nobel Peace Prize laureate from house arrest, and two ethnic minority political parties also have said they will stay away.

Suu Kyi was detained after a pro-government mob attacked her convoy in May 2003.

The conference reconvened with 1,075 delegates at a convention center 40km from the capital of Yangon after a seven-month hiatus. The session may last up to two months.

"The drawing up of this constitution is very important because we are going for a democratic nation," Lieutenant General Thein Sein, a top junta member, said as the session began.

He declined to specify when the drafting might be completed, but some reports said the process, which began 12 years ago, could be finished by next year.

The government had invited the mostly hand-picked delegates to attend the conference, excluding Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and the two ethnic political groups which did not participate in the convention in May last year. A third ethnic minority group also didn't attend Thursday.

Myanmar has not had a constitution since the junta seized power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy uprising. The junta held elections in 1990, but refused to cede power when Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide.

Thein Sein, who chairs the meeting, pledged yesterday to follow a seven-point road map to democracy, repeating earlier claims that foreign and domestic forces along with "unscrupulous elements" were trying to derail the process.

The US and EU have urged the junta to launch a meaningful dialogue with opposition groups and include them in the convention, saying it will otherwise lack legitimacy.

Washington has described Myanmar as one of the world's "outposts of tyranny."

But China, Myanmar's major supporter, continued to back the regime.

"The National Convention is the important first step of the seven-step roadmap," Chinese Ambassador Li Jinjun said at the meeting.

The government says the current session will adopt the basic principles for sharing legislative power and will continue discussions on principles for sharing administrative and judicial powers.

Diplomats and local and foreign journalists were invited to the opening session, which is being held under tight security. However, diplomats from the US, EU and Australia did not attend.

The delegates include representatives of once-rebellious ethnic groups which have signed cease-fire agreements with the government. But one of the groups, described by the junta as the Shan State Army, was not present because its leader, Hse Htin, was detained early this month for unknown reasons.

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and the Shan State Kokang Democratic Party were boycotting the meeting. Authorities seized two SNLD leaders last week for unknown reasons.

Pro-democracy parties in Myanmar last week said the junta was trying to draft a constitution unilaterally, and that such a constitution "could not be expected to guarantee democracy, human rights and public well-being."

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