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Burma Outlines Plans for Democratic Transition During Meetings in Thailand - 2003-12-15

Thailand's foreign minister says the one-day international meeting with Burma has been more successful than expected. Burma's foreign minister outlined plans for a democratic transition in meetings with diplomats from 11 countries and the United Nations.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai says his Burmese counterpart, Win Aung, told diplomats that his military government plans to convene a national political convention in 2004.

The convention is part of a seven-point plan for democracy announced by Burma in August. It includes plans to draft a new constitution and organize national elections.

Minister Surakiart called the meeting a breakthrough that produced much more than he expected. "I did not expect Foreign Minister Win Aung to come out and tell us about the timeframe for the national convention. I did not expect him to talk about 2004 for not only the national convention but [also] the constitutional drafting," he said.

The Thai foreign minister said the plan for political reform had been clarified to the international community. He added European and Asian diplomats were given assurances that all political parties,including the National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi,would be allowed to participate in the national convention.

A previous national convention was suspended in 1996 after the NLD withdrew, accusing the military of dominating the proceedings. The NLD won national elections in 1990 but was not allowed to assume power.

The Thai foreign minister says Burma's Win Aung told the diplomats in Bangkok that his government was also resuming confidence-building talks with the NLD. These talks were launched three-years ago and led to an easing of restrictions on the NLD and its members.

But those gains were reversed in May, when Aung San Suu Kyi and several-dozen senior party leaders were detained and party offices were closed again after a clash with pro-government supporters. Many of those detained have since been released, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner and four top party leaders are still being held.

Diplomats told reporters before the meeting that their expectations were low because it was a preliminary gathering. It was seen as an effort to end Burma's international isolation and ease the political deadlock in the country.

Two of Burma's strongest critics, Britain and the United States, were not invited to the meeting. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department last week said Washington did not ask to participate in the meeting and had reservations about any proposal for national reconciliation that did not include the NLD.