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Burma Envoy: Constitutional Convention Could Restart After End of Rainy Season


Talks on drafting a new constitution for Burma will resume as early as October, the country's ambassador to the Philippines has said. But the envoy also said the party of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is likely to be excluded from the negotiations.

Burma's ambassador to the Philippines, Thaung Tun, told a foreign correspondents forum in Manila Tuesday his country's constitution was now 75 percent complete, and talks would resume once the rainy season is over.

The constitutional drafting assembly last met in late January. The process began originally in 1993 but there were several years in which no meetings were held.

The ambassador blamed the latest delay on the complexities of reform but said many elements of the new constitution were already in place.

"…They have agreed on the basic principles of the new constitution," Thaung says. "They have agreed there will be a presidential type, it will have a bicameral system, it will have parliaments in each of the states and provinces. They also have agreed on many of the details regarding sharing of powers."

The ambassador also said Burma's military would play a significant role in the structure and be guaranteed a percentage of parliamentary seats.

Thaung Tun called for patience on the remaining power sharing issues and in the settlement of the competing claims.

"Each ethnic group wants to have a little territory of their own, want to have their little own parliament," Thaung says. "It's difficult. We have to make a compromise and compromise takes time. …That is the only way to ensure we will survive as a nation."

Burma has some 135 national groups with competing territorial claims, several of which have been fighting for autonomy. But in recent years the government has reached ceasefire pacts with some rebel groups, including the largest ethnic minority, the Karen.

Thaung Tun on Tuesday also ruled out participation in the renewed talks by Burma's opposition party, the National League for Democracy or NLD, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The NLD has accused the convention of acting as a rubber stamp for the military's continued leading role in government.

Burma's military, in power since 1962, has faced growing pressure in recent months over its failure to move ahead with political reforms and release the opposition leader from house arrest. Fellow members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been vocal on the need for progress toward democracy.

Burma is subject to U.S. and European economic sanctions due to charges of human rights abuses against the military government.

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