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US Rejects Burmese Constitution Process as 'Total Sham'

04 September 2007

The United States Tuesday dismissed as a "total sham" the outline for a new Burmese constitution produced by a national convention assembled by the country's military government. The State Department says the results of the "illegitimate" convention do not represent the will of the Burmese people. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States has long been critical of the constitution-writing exercise in Burma, because it excluded principal opposition groups and ethnic minorities.

It is now dismissing the results of the process - a set of guidelines for a new constitution, as a sham document without any political legitimacy.

The Burmese military leadership announced Tuesday that after 14 years of on-and-off work, the convention had produced a set of charter guidelines that will eventually lead to national elections.

Despite the junta's depiction of the guidelines as part of a democratic "road map," domestic and international critics immediately condemned the package, saying its provisions would insure that the military remains the dominant force in the country.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said for the process to have had any legitimacy, it would have had to have included opposition factions, notably Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

"I think our simplest response to it is we view it as a total sham," said Casey. "The delegates to this convention were hand-picked by the regime. They haven't been allowed to engage in any open debate, and of course they also excluded the National League for Democracy, which is Burma's largest political party."

"It's also somewhat ironic that the conclusions of this supposed open political process coincide with a crackdown on citizens for peacefully protesting, and trying to exercise their freedom of expression," he continued.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party won national elections in a landslide in 1990 but was barred by the military from taking power. The 1991 Nobel Peace laureate has been under various forms of detention most of the time since then, including house arrest since May of 2003.

News accounts say the guidelines would give the military continued control of key ministries and unelected blocks of seats in legislative bodies, while limiting the rights of political parties with provisions tailored to exclude Aung San Suu Kyi and her party.

Spokesman Casey said it is hard to see how the work of the constitutional convention is salvageable.

A written statement here reaffirmed the U.S. call for "genuine, inclusive dialogue" between the junta and opposition factions, leading to a civilian, democratic government that respects human rights.

The U.S. statement also called on the junta, which has responded harshly in recent days to public protests over fuel price increases, to halt the arrest and harassment of non-violent activists, release all political prisoners, end attacks on civilians in ethnic minority areas and lift curbs on humanitarian aid groups.

Casey said he expects the Burmese human rights issue to be revisited by the U.N. Security Council in the coming weeks. A U.S.-sponsored resolution condemning Burma won majority support in the council last January but was vetoed by vetoes by Russia and China.

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