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Burma's Military Rulers to Restart Constitutional Convention Next Month

Burma's military government says it will reconvene the constitutional convention in mid-February. Critics maintain the convention will do little to produce true political reform in Burma as long as opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest.

The chairman Burma's constitutional convention, Lieutenant General Thein Sein, announced Wednesday the political gathering would reopen February 17 after a seven-month break.

State-controlled media says the general also disclosed that armed ethnic groups observing ceasefire would be allowed to attend.

The convention opened last May as part of the military government's so-called democracy road map. The goal is to draft a new constitution and prepare for elections.

Burma last held elections in 1990, but the military invalidated the results when the opposition National League for Democracy, the NLD, won by a landslide.

The international community and United Nations have expressed serious doubts about the convention's credibility after tight restrictions were placed on the more than 1,000 handpicked delegates in 2004.

The main opposition party, the NLD boycotted the convention after the military refused to release party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from her latest episode of house arrest.

Aung Zaw, editor of the Thai-based independent newspaper, The Irrawaddy, says 2005 may prove to be a crucial year for Burma as it readies to assume the post of chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, in 2006.

"A lot of political analysts believe that this year is a make or break for Burma because in 2006 the government will host the ASEAN summit and it is important to show that Burma has achieved the political stability and its own plan with the elections," said Aung Zaw.

Despite unusual public pressure from ASEAN, last year, the military government removed the man it appointed to create the road map for political transition. Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who also headed military intelligence, was quickly arrested for corruption and replaced by a hardliner.

In addition, Rangoon ignored loud international calls to release NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and instead extended her arrest for another year - until late 2005.