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Burmese Opposition Still Undecided About Constitutional Convention - 2004-04-29

Burma's opposition National League for Democracy says the military government is showing signs of greater flexibility ahead of May's national constitutional convention on possible moves toward democracy. But the NLD may not attend unless its leader - Aung San Suu Kyi - is released from almost a year of house arrest.

Burma's National League for Democracy is still debating whether to attend a national constitutional convention in May. Much depends on whether opposition NLD icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house detention.

Top ranking party members - vice chairman Tin Oo, chairman, Aung Shwe and secretary U Lwin, met with Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence Tuesday to discuss the situation. But no decision has been taken. The NLD says the government has not given them any idea when when Aung San Suu Kyi may be freed.

The convention, due to begin May 17, aims to restart drafting of the constitution. The process has been suspended since 1996 when the NLD withdrew to protest how the military leadership was controlling the meetings.

In the last year, there have been some personnel changes in the military government. NLD secretary U Lwin, in an interview with VOA, says that means there appears to be some flexibility that was not there before. "I think this, I mean the new authorities, the new team, is rather, I think, flexible than the previous one, although they are sticking to the old, I mean principles, and working procedures."

Burma's intelligence chief, Khin Nyunt, was appointed prime minister last August and has promised to implement a road map for political reform in Burma. That plan includes May's constitutional convention and future elections at a time still to be determined.

Burma's military is under pressure from the international community - including Southeast Asia - to implement reform before assuming the presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - ASEAN - in 2006.

Without implementing some political freedoms, Burma - and ASEAN - may face diplomatic embarrassment if other major partners - such as Europe and the United States - boycott the annual series of ASEAN summit meetings.

Analysts say the release of Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of the convention will be a key indicator of how credible the military government's pledge is to implement reforms.

Aung Zaw is a Burmese political commentator and the editor of the Thai-based independent newspaper, The Irrawaddy. "If she's released before the convention I can safely say the two sides have reached some sort of agreement," he says. "And so far there is no sign the NLD leaders, with or without Aung San Suu Kyi, are not going to attend the convention."

Burma has been ruled by the military for more than three decades. The government did allow elections in 1990 - but refused to hand over power when the NLD won by a landslide.