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US Skeptical About Burmese Military Resignations

The United States on Tuesday expressed doubt that the decision by key members of Burma's military government to resign their military posts will make elections planned for later this year any fairer.

Officials here say the decision by several Burmese officials to transform themselves into civilians has not changed U.S. skepticism about the election plans of the country's military rulers.

Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and some 20 other cabinet ministers announced late last month that they were resigning from their military posts and forming a new political party.

Under a new constitution backed by the military, which has run the country since 1962, the military government is to be replaced by civilian rule and an elected parliament through a popular vote sometime later this year.

The State Department said in March that the election plans, which assure a continued heavy role in government by the military, make a "mockery" of the democratic process and guarantee that the vote will lack credibility.

At a news briefing on Tuesday, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the resignations of Thien Sein and other cabinet members from the military could be seen as a positive step.

But he said what is really needed is for the government to open up "real political space" - not only for ex-generals, but to all of those who want to participate constructively in Burmese society.

"As we said recently, we regret the election law - that it fell short of international standards," he said. "Burma has to open up political space. It has to have a meaningful dialogue with all of its ethnic groups within Burma. If these individuals, in transforming themselves from generals to civilians, can open up that political space, then we would truly see that as a positive step."

Under the widely criticized 2008 constitution, 25 percent of the seats in the new parliament are reserved for the military.

Domestic critics of the government say the decision by cabinet members to resign from the military, and potentially stand for election, might be an effort to insure that considerably more than a quarter of the parliament will effectively be military-controlled.

The last elections in Burma, in 1990, were won overwhelmingly by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, or NLD, which was never allowed to take office.

The NLD is boycotting the elections because of rules that exclude key members from running, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate who remains under detention as she has been most of the time since the 1990 vote.

The Obama administration came to office hoping that engagement could help prod Burma's rulers toward reform.

Despite U.S. criticism of the election plans, a senior official here says another visit to Burma by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell is being considered, although no decision has been made.

Campbell, the highest-level U.S. official to visit Burma in several years, went there last November for talks with government leaders and was allowed to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi.