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Burma Ends 14-Year Process on Drafting New Constitution


Burma's military-appointed National Convention has concluded a 14-year process on drafting guidelines for a new constitution and a possible return to civilian rule. But as the National Convention held closing ceremonies, security forces continued to round up pro-democracy activists. VOA Southeast Asia correspondent, Luis Ramirez, reports from Bangkok.

Some 1,000 delegates ended their work to draft guidelines for a new constitution with a closing ceremony at a military base north of Rangoon Monday. No foreign journalists were allowed to attend the event. But witnesses say Acting Prime Minister Lieutenant General Thein Sein called the meeting a "victory" for all of Burma's people.

The next step is to write the constitution before it is put to Burmese voters for approval. However, it is not clear who will actually write the document and no timeline has been set for the entire process, which, in principle, is supposed to move one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries to democracy after more than four decades of military rule.

The National Convention, which met intermittently over 14 years, was appointed by the military government and excluded Burma's main pro-democracy figures - casting doubts about its legitimacy.

Khin Omar is a prominent pro-democracy activist who took part in the 1988 student protests, ended by an Army crackdown that killed about 3,000 people. Watching events in Burma from exile along the Thai border, she tells VOA she sees Burma's generals are not ready to give up power.

"Honestly, I don't see any hope that this constitution will bring for the people on the ground. This whole constitution is a whole setup for the regime to just legalize their power forever in the national politics," said Omar. "They've been planning to make sure that in the new constitution, they have the military power also guaranteed, as well as their military uniform changed into civilian uniform."

Resumption of the constitutional convention was part of the country's seven-point plan called the 'roadmap to democracy' unveiled by more moderate government elements in 2003.

The international community has since pressed Burma for faster and more concrete movement for a peaceful political transition, to little avail.

The military continues to suppress dissent. The latest is a crackdown on several weeks of protests against government imposed steep hikes the price of fuel. Monday, a group of demonstrators tried to stage a march from Labutta to Rangoon. Witnesses say security forces stopped the demonstrators after a short distance and arrested several protesters.

International human rights advocates say more than 100 activists have been arrested, some of them severely beaten and tortured.

The United States has voiced concern about abuses committed by Burmese security forces against pro-democracy activists. President Bush is expected to raise the issue and press Burma's neighbors to do more to stop the abuses when he attends a summit of Asia Pacific leaders in Sydney, Australia this week.

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