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Activists reject Myanmar charter

Pro-democracy activists warns the ruling junta could unleash a new wave of violence to ensure victory in a constitutional referendum.

world Updated: Feb 11, 2008 18:13 IST

Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar on Monday warned the ruling junta could unleash a new wave of violence to ensure victory in a constitutional referendum, urging voters to reject the regime's charter.

The junta late Saturday made a surprise announcement that it would bring its proposed constitution before the public for approval in May, setting the stage for elections in 2010.

If held, the elections would be the first since 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory that was ignored by the junta.

The 88 Generation Students, a coalition of leading democracy activists, said the regime was trying to use the referendum to abolish the 1990 election results and legalise its dictatorship in the country formerly known as Burma.

The group branded the referendum as a "declaration of war" against the people, accusing the junta of planning to use security forces and state-backed militias to intimidate and even beat the population into approving the charter.

"The upcoming constitutional referendum will be a major battlefield between the military regime, which wants to rule the country forever, and the people of Burma, who want to be free from the military rule," the group said in a statement.

"The regime is attempting to legalise the military dictatorship with a sham-constitution.

"This is the declaration of war by the military regime against the people of Burma, who want to uphold the 1990 elections results and honour the will of the people," it said.

Many of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students were arrested in August, after they started holding small demonstrations in protest at an unannounced hike in fuel prices.

After their arrest, Buddhist monks began leading the protest movement, which swelled into the biggest challenge to military rule since 1988.

With more than 100,000 people in the streets, security forces launched a violent crackdown in late September, when the United Nations estimates at least 31 people were killed.

The group's latest statement, distributed by overseas activists, was signed by three of its top members who have been in hiding since the crackdown.

They said that the United Nations should take a greater role in mediating among the military, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the armed ethnic groups that have battled the government for decades.

"We also urge the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma as soon as possible. He needs to meet with General Than Shwe," the statement said, while calling on western nations to tighten sanctions targeting the regime's leadership.

In Yangon, a pro-junta party urged Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD to accept the military's timetable for the referendum and elections.

"The people would suffer if (the NLD) goes the wrong way and organises some nonsense instigation" regarding the balloting, said Khin Maung Gyi, general secretary of the National Unity Party.

"They should have political maturity. They need to consider the real situation," he told a press conference at his party's headquarters, not far from the home where Aung San Suu Kyi has been kept under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.

Analysts have warned that the junta's election promises will mean little if Aung San Suu Kyi and the leaders of the 88 Generation Students remain locked away, saying the polls could be a ploy to ease international pressure over the crackdown in September.