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Talks on Burma's Political Future to be Held in Thailand - 2003-12-12


Delegates from Burma and 11 other countries are gathering in Thailand to hold talks about Burma's political reform. Thai officials do not expect great progress, because this is the first in a series of meetings.

Burma's Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win is planning to attend the one-day forum hosted Monday by Thailand's Foreign Ministry.

Burma agreed to participate after initial resistance, and after assurances from the Thais that the meeting's main purpose was not to criticize Burma's military government.

The Thai government says 10 other countries, including China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and four European nations, Austria, Britain, France, Germany and Italy will also participate. The United States, one of Burma's strongest critics, has not been invited.

The forum, as it is officially known, will discuss a "road map toward national reconciliation" announced in August by Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. The plan lists seven steps, including reconvening the constitutional convention and holding national elections.

Burmese authorities have not announced a timetable for the process, but plan the national convention for early next year.

The military government first called a national convention in 1993 after refusing to recognize the election results of 1990, which were swept by the National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi.

But the convention was suspended three-years later, after the NLD withdrew, saying the government was railroading the proceedings.

Burmese officials have been meeting with former rebel and ethnic groups, and say several have agreed to attend the convention.

Leaders of the Karen National Union, which is keeping up a five-decade rebellion against the government, emerged from recent meetings saying they felt that the government was sincere about calling the convention. They say they and the government have refrained from attacking each other since last week, calling it a verbal cease-fire.

The editor of the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine, Aung Zaw, says the Burmese government is trying to bring as many groups as possible to the convention.

"The government is very eager to get the KNU to attend national convention, which will be a great showcase for them because if KNU comes, then the other smaller groups may also come along," said Aung Zaw.

The most important party to the convention, says Aung Zaw, is the NLD. He says if the NLD does not attend, many Burmese and foreign governments will not accept the convention. A government negotiator has been meeting with NLD leaders, but Aung Zaw is not sure how much progress has been made.

The government recently released five senior NLD leaders who were placed under house arrest after a clash last May, but five top leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, are still not free.

The Burmese government is under increasing international pressure to begin political reforms, most recently from Asian governments. It has indicated it may call the convention without NLD participation.

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