Aung San Suu Kyis Party Boycotts Burmas Constitutional Talks


2004-05-17
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BANGKOK — ; Burma's ruling junta opened a constitutional convention Monday, but Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) stayed away to protest the Nobel laureate's detention, RFA's broadcast services report.

Activists meanwhile protested against the convention in Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, Washington, and Kuala Lumpur. In the Malaysian capital, police took 23 people into custody, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter.

Lieutenant General Thein Sein opened the convention in Rangoon, setting forth the principles that will form the country's new constitution. The junta threw out the old constitution in 1988 after they seized power. "In the interests of the nation and the people, the emergence of the state constitution is the duty of all citizens of our country. We are now in the meeting hall to discharge this duty that is of utmost importance," he said.

The talks are the first stage of a seven-point "roadmap to democracy" unveiled last year, which the government claims will conclude with free elections in a country ruled by the military for four decades.

The NLD announced Friday that it wouldn't attend after the junta refused to release Aung San Suu Kyi and her deputy, NLD vice chairman Tin Oo, both of whom have been detained since last May.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo, who have both been under house arrest since a deadly crackdown on May 30, 2003, were not among the 54 NLD delegates invited to the convention.

The NLD also said the junta had rejected its demand to re-open all of party offices before the convention. Only the NLD office in Rangoon is currently open. The party won 1990 elections by a landslide but the military refused to hand over power.

Observers say the convention lacks credibility in the NLD's absence.

The talks are the first stage of a seven-point "roadmap to democracy" unveiled last year, which the government claims will conclude with free elections in a country ruled by the military for four decades.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was said to be "dismayed" that the junta had opened the talks without the opposition. "The secretary general reiterates that, for the national convention to be credible, it must be all-inclusive and that all the delegates must be able to express their views without sanction," Annan's spokesman said in a statement.

In a statement released at talks in Brussels, the council of European Union foreign ministers also expressed "deep disappointment."

"If you want stability in this country, it's going to need substantive discussions among the government, the democratic opposition, and ethnic minorities," Agence France-Presse quoted a U.S. Embassy official as saying.

The convention drew criticism from around the world, including Malaysia and Thailand. Lim Kit Siang, leader of the Malaysia's parliamentary opposition, labeled the convention "a farce" without the presence of the NLD. He also called for ASEAN to suspend Burma from participating in its meetings.

Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed his disappointment at Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention. "I don't feel comfortable. I am trying not to intervene in their internal affairs, but if you ask me personally, I would like to see all parties included," Thaksin told reporters.

Some 1,076 delegates, including farmers, academics, military, and workers — ; mostly handpicked by the junta — ; arrived at a heavily guarded military compound 50 kms outside Rangoon over the weekend. State-run television showed delegates touring the convention compound and playing golf. Other facilities include a hospital, beauty parlor, karaoke lounge, and gym.

The duration of the convention was unknown, and foreign journalists have been barred from the event.

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