Road Map to Division
By Htet Aung Kyaw Monday, November 17, 2003

November 17, 2003—When UN Secretary General Kofi Annan criticized the Burmese military’s seven-step road map as one-sided, the opposition and analysts welcomed Annan’s critique. But the ruling generals have showed no desire to respond to his suggestions. This is because the main alliance of leaders in the region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), has already backed Rangoon’s road map. While the US, European Union and Japan have expressed their opposition, Burma’s most powerful neighbors, China and India, have offered no comment. China and India have said they want to stay out of Burma’s "internal affairs." It certainly illustrates how divisive the issue has been for the international community. An assembly to draft a new constitution is the first step on the junta’s road map. But the National Convention, as it is called, is also dividing opposition and ethnic groups. Some 17 armed ethnic groups who signed ceasefires have agreed to send to the National Convention, but many have stipulated conditions. Nine ethnic political parties who won the election in 1990 under the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) have rejected the junta’s invitation. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won 82 percent of the votes in 1990, has had no real opportunity to respond to the road map. All of the party’s leaders are in jail or under house arrest. And some observers anticipate that many of the NLD leaders will be kept in custody for the duration of the National Convention. However, 20 Members of Parliament (MPs) who were dismissed from the NLD, and some individual MPs, will be joining the assembly to draft a new constitution. Based on the latest information from Rangoon, the military has invited five representatives from each of the 17 ceasefire groups. An extra nine people from the country’s seven states and seven divisions have also been ordered to attend. Other representatives will be drawn from junta-friendly groups like the military’s political arm, the Union Solidarity and Development Association; the women’s organization chaired by Prime Minister Khin Nyunt’s wife; and a farmers association led by a retired army general. According to regulations for the last assembly convened in 1993—which adjourned in 1996 after a NLD boycott—702 delegates must attend. Last time, only 20 percent of the representatives were MPs elected in 1990 while the remaining 555 seats went to the junta. Forty-eight were from political parties, 99 were elected MPs, 212 seats were assigned to ethnic minorities, 93 were farmers, 44 were workers, 90 were civil servants, 35 were technocrats, 53 were special guests and 28 were assigned to women’s organizations. The junta hopes the make-up will be similar this time around. Regulations noted that the assembly could only be convened when 50 percent of delegates attended. Once the NLD and elected MPs left, the Convention had to be adjourned. Khin Nyunt promised at the Asean summit in Bali that all political forces would be able to join in the convention this time around. But there has still been no meeting between the NLD, the UNA and government officials. Hkun Htun Oo, a UNA spoksesman, said Suu Kyi warned the junta to talk immediately with the NLD and the UNA when she met with UN human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro last week. "The National Convention cannot materialize without the NLD and the national races," Hkun Htun Oo said. There are still no signs that the military will release Suu Kyi or talk to senior NLD leaders about the National Convention. However, some MPs in Rangoon predict there will be increasing confrontation between the NLD and the military in coming weeks. In this situation, the international community, as well as people inside the country, need to unite against the military’s divisive plan. Htet Aung Kyaw is an editor for the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma.

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