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UN Envoy Ends Trip to Burma - 2004-03-04

U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail has ended a four-day visit to Burma aimed at reviving talks between the military government and the pro-democracy movement. During his trip the Malaysian diplomat met with Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

U.N. envoy Razali Ismail's four-day visit to Burma focused on efforts to assemble a national convention that would draft a constitution leading to elections. The convention is the first step of a road map toward reform announced by Prime Minister Khin Nyunt last August.

The government says that a dozen former ethnic rebel groups have agreed to attend, and for the first time the government is negotiating with one of the oldest rebel groups, the Karen National Union. Those talks have led to an informal cease-fire.

A former Australian ambassador to Burma, now at Australia National University, Trevor Wilson, notes that a process for a national convention is under way for the first time in eight years. "In that sense, it's a very positive situation that we have at the moment," he says. "But one would have to be very cautious about characterizing this too positively because of the record of the breakdown of the talks in the past."

Senior government officials have also reportedly been talking to members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, but no progress has been announced.

Aung San Suu Kyi and three other members of the NLD's senior executive committee remain under house arrest. Dozens of party leaders were detained and all party offices were closed following a clash last May with pro-government supporters.

The incident dealt a serious setback to reconciliation efforts.

Ambassador Wilson notes that Burma's military leaders this time have taken the lead in reviving national reconciliation efforts. "The question is, now, whether the terms under which the national convention process will get underway are going to be acceptable not only to the NLD, of course, but to all the different opposition groups that they have been inviting to participate," he says.

The previous national convention was disbanded after NLD delegates walked out saying the government was interfering in the deliberations. Burmese officials say they want to hold the convention this year and indicate that if it is successful, national elections would be held next year.