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Burma Stands By Goal of Introducing Democracy - 2002-09-20

Burma's Foreign Minister, U Win Aung, has told the United Nations that the military government stands by a goal of introducing a multiparty political system. But the government has set no timetable for democratic reform.

The Foreign Minister's speech came amid growing international impatience at the slow pace of political reform in Burma.

The U.S. State Department expressed disappointment Wednesday over the lack of headway, on the occasion of the Burmese military government's 14th anniversary in power.

Mr. Win Aung told the General Assembly it remained the government's goal to establish a multi-party democratic political system. He set no date for elections, however.

The last democratic vote in Burma came in May 1990, and resulted in a landslide victory for the opposition National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi. But the military refused to hand over power, and Ms. Suu Kyi's freedom has been greatly restricted ever since.

Her release last May from 19 months of house arrest led to optimism that the government would commence face-to-face talks with her party. But while the military has released hundreds of political prisoners, and is allowing Ms Suu Kyi to travel freely throughout the country, there have been few signs that the talks will commence any time soon.

Chaiyachoke Chulasiriwong, a political science professor at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, told VOA that support was growing for increased sanctions against Burma, as a way of pressing the military into action.

Mr. Chaiyachoke says one reason for Mr Win Aung's conciliatory tone may have been to head off any new sanctions. He says it may take some time before the military feels it is in a position to allow elections to proceed. "It may take some time," he said. "And, again, as I said, that many western countries are not too happy about the slowness [of the process]. And of course to me, I think, we should let the process go on, although it might take two years or so."

Mr. Chaiyachoke says that among other things, the military will have to set up new structures, such as a civilian administration that is selected by popular vote, but remains under the guidance of the armed forces.