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UN Official Says Burmese  Constitutional Talks a Failure - 2004-06-01

The U.N. human rights envoy to Burma says the military government's latest attempts at political reform are doomed to fail. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro is urging Rangoon to stop sidelining the main democratic opposition.

U.N. human rights envoy to Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, says Burma's current convention to draft a new constitution lacks credibility.

The convention is part of Burma's so-called roadmap to peace, a seven-point plan unveiled in August to bring about a political transition in the authoritarian country.

In blunt criticism of Burma's long-ruling military government, Mr. Pinheiro said that a real constitution cannot be drafted while the main opposition leader is under house arrest and her party is boycotting the convention. He was referring to Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the National League for Democracy, who has been detained numerous times since her party won 1990 elections, but was not allowed to take power.

Mr. Pinheiro says Burma's broken promises about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the tight restrictions on convention participants are making the process unworkable.

"This political transition will not work; it will not work on the Moon, it will not work in Mars," he said. "They can insist, but they will not be successful."

The convention, with about 1,000 representatives, has been meeting outside Rangoon since mid-May. But Mr. Pinheiro says the delegates are not free to interact in the constitutional process because the are, in effect, under house arrest. He says the ruling military has forbidden them to contact their families, criticize the government or leave the meetings.

The National League for Democracy refused to participate in the convention after its repeated requests for Aung San Suu Kyi's release went ignored.

Mr. Pinheiro, who has twice attempted to travel to Burma since his last visit in November 2003, says tight political controls at the convention are undermining the meeting's legitimacy.

"This national convention, rather than helping to reduce tensions and produce national reconciliation, it will serve only to create further tension within the country and continued international isolation," he said. Mr. Pinheiro added that he is hopeful for more negotiations with the government, saying, "The door is not yet shut."

Southeast Asian nations are voicing frustration with Burma's slow approach to government reform.

Burma's Prime Minister Khin Nyunt is visiting Malaysia and is expected Friday in Thailand for meetings with his Thai counterpart, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand is concerned that Burma's human rights record could dominate an upcoming Asia-Europe summit meeting, putting discussions about trade, security, and other issues on the sidelines.