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Suu Kyi release a long way off: Junta

world Updated: Oct 08, 2007 14:34 IST
Aung Hla Tun
Aung Hla Tun
Reuters
Myanmar

Myanmar's military junta suggested on Monday that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will remain under house arrest until a new constitution is approved -- a dim and distant prospect, according to most analysts.

A commentary in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the generals' official mouthpiece, also gave short shrift to the demands of the thousands who joined last month's protests, the biggest anti-junta demonstrations in nearly 20 years.

"The three demands of the protesters -- lowering consumer prices, release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners, and national reconciliation -- cannot be satisfied through protest," the paper said, attaching an honorific to her name.

"Now, those responsible are making arrangements to draft the state constitution and collect the list of voters," it added. "When the state constitution is approved, the fulfilment of the three demands will be within reach."

Holding a referendum on a new constitution is the fourth stage in a seven-step "roadmap to democracy".

For Suu Kyi, who has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years in prison or under house arrest, the omens are not good.

Stage One of the roadmap -- a National Convention to draw up the "detailed basic principles" of the charter -- took 14 years.

Furthermore, Stage Two -- "step-by-step implementation of the process necessary for the emergence of a genuine and disciplined democratic state" -- is so unclear few know what it means, let alone when it can be completed.

Stage Three is drafting the constitution, a process that many thought the National Convention was meant to have been doing for the last 14 years of on-off meetings, most of which have been boycotted by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

The NLD won a massive election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the army, which first seized power in 1962.

After last month's protests, Senior General Than Shwe, whose personal loathing for Suu Kyi is well known, offered direct talks with the 62-year-old if she abandoned "confrontation" and support for sanctions and "utter devastation."

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the offer could lead to talks about talks, although many analysts and Western governments doubt the junta's sincerity -- as they have with the democracy roadmap. Most dismiss it as a sham to cement the generals' grip on power.

Snippets of the "detailed basic principles" of the charter appearing in state media point to little transfer of power to a civilian administration or autonomy for the former Burma's 100-plus ethnic minorities.

The commander-in-chief of the army will be the most powerful man in the country under the constitutional guidelines agreed at the national convention, with the power to appoint the ministers of defence, interior and border affairs.

He will also be able to assume power "in times of emergency".


The junta has cut security in Yangon steadily since it sent in soldiers 10 days ago to end to the biggest pro-democracy protests since 1988. Official media say 10 people were killed, although Western governments say the toll is likely to be higher.

In 1988, up to 3,000 people are thought to have died in a crackdown over several weeks on protests led by students, as well as the Buddhist monks who spearheaded last month's marches which filled five city blocks at their height.