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Burma Leader Calls for National Unity - 2002-02-12

Burma's military government, marking the country's national day, has called for unity against threats to the country's stability.

Marking Burma's National Day, senior military leader Than Shwe made a plea for national unity, calling on people to ward off what he termed internal and external threats to stability.

The speech was read by a ruling party official to an assembled crowd of around 15,000 at the golden Shwedagon Pagoda in the capital, Rangoon.

In the address, General Than Shwe referred to what he called destructionists standing in the way of peace, modernization and development. It is not clear if the general was referring to Burma's ethnic minorities or the democratic opposition.

Unity Day marks the 1947 agreement among Burma's ethnic groups paving the way for independence from Britain.

Ethnic conflicts still plague Burma, notably with the Karen rebels in the northeast and the Shan people, who are still fighting with the central government for greater autonomy. Several ceasefire agreements have done little to lessen the tension.

Meanwhile, the opposition National League for Democracy also marked Burma's national day in Rangoon. In a speech to 500 party members and foreign dignitaries, NLD leader Aung Shwe also called for unity to achieve national reconciliation. The NLD has been locked in a struggle with the military government since it was prevented from taking power after winning democratic elections in 1990.

U.N. human rights envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, attended the opposition ceremony. He is in Burma for a 10-day visit to assess civil rights.