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Myanmar junta chief for democracy

Myanmar supremo vows that the only path to political reform is via the junta's own "roadmap to democracy", which Western governments have dismissed as a sham.

world Updated: Nov 17, 2007 13:35 IST
Aung Hla Tun
Aung Hla Tun

Myanmar supremo Than Shwe, leader of the ruling military, has vowed that the only path to political reform is via the junta's own "roadmap to democracy", which Western governments have dismissed as a sham.

"We have declared a seven-step roadmap towards a democratic state," the Senior General said in a speech reported in official media on Saturday. "The seven-step roadmap is the only means to smooth transition towards a new state."

His words suggest that any discussions about political reform with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will have to take place within the framework of the junta's existing plan, which is now at stage three -- writing a new constitution.

Stage one -- drawing up the outline of the charter -- ended in September after a National Convention that first met 14 years ago, but which hit trouble when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) refused to attend while she was under house arrest.

A drafting commission of 54 people handpicked by the military has now been appointed and will hold their first meeting on December 1. There has been no indication of how long they will take to complete their work.

Western governments have dismissed the convention and its output as a blueprint for the army legitimising its grip on power after 45 years of unbroken military rule.

Under the outlined charter, the head of the army will be the most powerful person in the country, with the ability to appoint key cabinet positions and suspend the constitution in the event of an emergency that he defines.

Amid unprecedented international pressure after September's bloody crackdown to embark on meaningful talks with Suu Kyi, Than Shwe admitted that not everything had been plain sailing under his leadership in the former Burma.

However, he defended his record, describing his government, which emerged in the early 1990s from the wreckage of late dictator Ne Win's rule, as a "transitive government of historical necessity which is undertaking a state transformation."

"The road that we have been treading since 1988 till today was not a road of roses," Than Shwe was quoted as saying. "It was a rough road with internal and foreign political machinations, disturbances and obstacles that we had to overcome."

Analysts said his remarks might be meant to deflect criticism at this month's annual get-together of the 10-country Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is expected to have unusually harsh words for its black-sheep member.

ASEAN chair Singapore expressed official "revulsion" at the crackdown in which at least 15 people -- and probably many more -- were killed.

China, the closest the generals have to a friend, has also been pushing for reform to ensure stability in a country where Beijing has long-term strategic and energy interests.

Myanmar media said Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, who was visiting this week, had been told the junta would take "positive and pragmatic measures to accelerate the seven-step roadmap".

First Published: Nov 17, 2007 13:23 IST