Myanmar's military junta reopenes national constitutional convention

Myanmar's military junta reopened a national constitutional convention on Monday, warning its citizens of the dangers of "external and internal elements" trying to derail the meeting, which they called a key step toward democracy. Amid light security, 1,074 delegates, including politicians, leaders of ethnic groups, workers, businesspeople and government employees, gathered at a sprawling convention center about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the capital to resume work. The session is set to last as long as two months but is unlikely to produce a final draft.

Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, wearing his military uniform and standing alone on a podium, opened the convention, telling delegates that the drafting of a constitution "was of primary importance to the transition to democracy."

"There is no other way but to implement the seven-step roadmap to achieve a genuine, disciplined and flourishing democratic state," Thein Sein said. "External and internal elements are trying to derail the national convention process at a time when it is going smoothly and successfully. Beware of the dangers of subversionists."

Thein Sein did not mention any nation or any group by name. But the convention comes after the United States, which has imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar and called it an "outpost of tyranny", successfully lobbied the U.N. Security Council on Friday to hold a closed-door briefing on the country.

Critics say the convention is being stage managed by the junta to stay in power. They say it cannot reflect the desires of the people when the main opposition party, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, and other groups are not participating.

The NLD won a landslide victory in general elections in 1990 but the military refused to hand over power, saying the country first needed a new constitution. Suu Kyi has been under continuous detention for more than two years. Her house arrest was extended by six months last week, and she has been barred from the convention. Her party is boycotting the event.

"From the very beginning, we felt this would not be free," said Myanmar political analyst Win Naing, who turned down an offer to attend the convention. "I'm not interested unless the process can be changed. The delegates weren't chosen freely. They were hand-picked." The international community has also urged the junta to speed up the process _ which has been running intermittently since 1993. But Thein Sein argued Monday that rushing the process would only result in a flawed system that would eventually collapse.

Delegates, diplomats and reporters were bused to the convention compound, which contains dozens of buildings to house them and includes restaurants, a clinic, a gym, a theater and a golf driving range. The United States was among those which did not send a representative.

Among the issues delegates are to tackle in this round are the sharing of administrative and judicial powers and the role of the army, known as Tatmadaw, in future governments, reports the AP. I.L.

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