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US Deplores Exclusion of Burmese Opposition from Constitutional Convention - 2004-05-21

The United States Friday deplored the exclusion of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition and ethnic-group figures from the constitutional convention held this week by the country's military government. The State Department urged the Burmese leadership to be responsive to foreign concerns about the process.

Officials here had been skeptical about the Burmese government's plans for the convention since they were first unveiled to the regional grouping ASEAN last year. They say the meeting itself which began Monday - with delegates largely hand picked by the military - has confirmed U.S. misgivings.

In a statement volunteered to reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted the absence of the still-detained National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, among others, from the gathering.

Mr. Boucher said the United States regrets the failure of the Burmese leadership to take action that would have allowed all elements of society, including democratic parties and ethnic groups, to participate in the process.

"A convention that does not include all of these groups cannot make real progress towards democracy or national reconciliation, nor can it help Burma repair its international reputation," he said. "An assembly such as the convention now under way that lacks participation by delegates of the democratic opposition is not truly representative of the people of Burma. It lacks legitimacy, and therefore we deplore it."

Mr. Boucher reiterated the U.S. call for the "immediate and unconditional" release of Aung San Suu Kyi, her party vice chairman Tin Oo, and other Burmese political prisoners.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate, has been under detention along with other leaders of her party since a violent confrontation between her supporters and a pro-government crowd a year ago.

The National League for Democracy scored a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in 1990. But the military government barred the NLD from taking power and Aung San Suu Kyi has been under various forms of detention most of the time since then.

Spokesman Boucher said there has been a "growing chorus" of calls from the international community - including a number of Southeast Asian countries -for "credibility" in the national reconciliation process in Burma.

He said the United States urges Burmese authorities to act positively on those concerns before, "yet another opportunity to bring peace, security and prosperity to Burma is lost."

He also said under questioning, the Bush administration has seen no sign of change in Burma that would lead it to ease or drop the tough sanctions, including an import ban on Burmese goods, that were imposed under terms of an act of Congress last year.