Archive for Sunday, December 4, 2005

Myanmar says more time needed for constitution

December 4, 2005


— Myanmar defended its haphazard efforts to draw up a constitution as delegates prepared to work on the much-delayed document, saying Saturday the country has the right to choose its own path toward democracy and the process cannot be rushed.

Meanwhile, the government confirmed for the first time that it has extended pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's detention by six months. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been held without trial under an anti-subversion law for 10 of the past 16 years.

Officials said the country's constitutional convention would resume Monday after an eight-month hiatus. It has been widely dismissed as a sham by the ruling junta's critics, who say the delegates were mostly hand-picked by a government intent on maintaining its grip on power.

The government, however, insists the 1,000 delegates expected to attend the event were coming of their own free will, and the convention eventually would lead to democracy. The meeting follows closed-door discussions in February and March.

"Based on its constitution, the government and people hand in hand will endeavor to build a disciplined and democratic nation," Aung Toe, the chief justice and vice chairman of the National Convention Convening Commission, told reporters.

Aung Toe dismissed suggestions the process was less credible because the country's largest political party - the National League for Democracy - was boycotting the event because of Suu Kyi's continued detention.

Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan confirmed Saturday that Suu Kyi's house arrest had been extended by six months. The extension had been expected because the government has shown no signs of wishing to talk with the NLD to resolve the country's political deadlock.

"They are just one party," Aung Toe said, adding that the NLD had "ignored the wishes of the people" by pulling out of the convention.

The United States criticized the extension when it was first reported by Suu Kyi's party last week, with a State Department spokesman calling it "another step in the wrong direction by Burma's military leaders." Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Myanmar has been under increasing pressure from the United States to emerge from its isolation and make genuine steps toward instituting a democracy.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the junta "one of the worst regimes in the world" for its record on human rights and free speech. President Bush said the price of Myanmar's "refusal to open up is isolation, backwardness and brutality."


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