Thu 31 Mar 2005
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
Yangon: Myanmar’s military junta adjourned much-criticised talks to draw up a new democratic constitution on Thursday, despite growing pressure from the region to speed up political change.
Blaming soaring temperatures and the approaching monsoon, officials at the closed door National Convention suggested the forum would not restart until after the annual rainy season — November at the earliest.
As such, it would be difficult for Yangon’s military government to ratify a new constitution much before it is scheduled to take the chair of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in mid-2006, analysts said.
“The chairman said it would resume before the end of this year,” one delegate told Reuters on his return from the out-of-town conference centre where he has been holed up since the talks restarted in mid-February.
“The chairman said the monsoon was coming soon and some delegates, who are farmers and growers, need to attend to their work. And because the weather is scorching,” said the delegate, who did not want to be identified.
The army, which has run the former Burma under various guises since 1962, says the convention is key to a seven stage “roadmap to democracy” laid out in 2003 by former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who was purged in October.
Western governments, analysts and diplomats say it is nothing but a smokescreen to preserve the generals’ grip on power, especially while opposition figures such as Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remain under house arrest.
ASEAN, which has favoured “constructive engagement” rather than the sanctions preferred by the West, appears to be losing patience, especially as the junta’s leadership would tarnish the group’s image severely in Washington and Europe.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) boycotted last year’s opening session of the convention. They were joined in February by at least one rebel ethnic ceasefire group whose leaders were rounded up on sedition charges.
That session ran from May to July and the conference did not reconvene until February this year.
Almost all of the convention’s 1,000-plus delegates are hand-picked by the military government, which lost a 1990 election by a landslide but which then refused to cede power.