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Burma's New PM Promises 'Return to Democracy' - 2003-08-30

Burma's recently-appointed prime minister says he will resume the drafting a of new constitution as a step toward "free and fair elections." But there was no indication of whether the imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi or her party will be involved.

Burma's new prime minister, General Khin Nyunt, on Saturday announced a seven-point "road map" that would eventually lead to parliamentary elections.

However, Khin Nyunt, who is also the military intelligence chief, gave no timetable for the process, except to say that it will take place "as soon as possible."

In a speech to government and military leaders in Rangoon, he did not specify any role in the process for the opposition National League for Democracy party, or NLD, or for its leader, Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained since the end of May, reportedly at a military camp near Rangoon, following an attack on her convoy by pro-government supporters, while she was on a political swing through Northern Burma.

The international community, including the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have all been pressing hard for her release.

New U.S. economic sanctions against Burma went into effect on Thursday.

Khin Nyunt, who was named prime minister of a reshuffled government in a surprise move earlier this week, is considered a relative moderate among the hard-line generals who rule the country. When it was announced that he would deliver a speech, hopes were raised that he would reveal when Aung San Suu Kyi would be freed.

But he only mentioned her twice, and then to charge that she and her party were responsible for the breakdown of talks on a new constitution in 1995. Analysts expressed disappointment at the speech. Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong, a professor of political science at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said the speech contained few new initiatives, after a decade of meager progress on political reform.

"I'm somewhat disappointed at his speech, because, although I have not seen the whole speech - but according to the report - it's not that positive in a sense," said Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong. "I would rather see something more positive than this."

Professor Chaiyachoke says the address will do little to satisfy the international community's demands for political reform and for dialogue with the NLD.

The NLD won a landslide victory in general elections in 1990, but the military never allowed the party to take power. Aung San Suu Kyi's movements were restricted, and she spent most of the past decade under house arrest.

She was released in May of 2002, and allowed relative freedom, until her detention earlier this year.