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Burmese Military Government Plans to Return Democracy, But Not Now - 2003-09-09


Burma's military government says it is too early to set out a time frame for implementing its recently announced "road map" to elections.

Labor Minister Tin Win says the government remains committed to turning Burma into what he termed a peaceful and developed nation under genuine and disciplined democracy.

But he says it is too early to give a timetable. He says there are several steps required before a convention could be reconvened to draft a new constitution so that elections can be held.

Last month, new Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt signaled the government's support for a "road map" to democracy with a goal of "free and fair" elections.

The constitutional convention was suspended in 1996 after the opposition National League for Democracy withdrew and accused the government of pressing the assembly to rubber stamp decisions by the military.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, remains under considerable international pressure to push ahead with political reforms and to free National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

She has been held at an undisclosed location for more than three months, after a pro-government mob attacked a convoy of National League for Democracy officers in northern Burma. Dozens of party supporters reportedly were killed or injured in the attack. Most of the party's senior members have been detained and its operations have been curtailed.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, says while Burma's plan for reform is welcome, more is needed before Southeast Asian leaders meet in October in Indonesia. "We would also like to see the implementation of the various steps that were outlined in the announcement by the Myanmar government," he said. "We would like to see the early implementation of what appeared in the road map announced by the Myanmar government."

Indonesian officials say they hope Burma frees Aung San Suu Kyi before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in October. Mr. Sihasak says her release would indicate that political progress is being achieved.

"Of course I think all of us [in ASEAN] our position is we would like to see the early lifting of the restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi and we think it would be a very important contribution or step toward moving the road map forward," he said.

The National League for Democracy overwhelmingly won national elections held in 1990, but the military never allowed the party to take office. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent more than half of the time since then under house arrest.