Myanmar's military government defers constitution-drafting convention

Myanmar's military government adjourned the country's constitution-drafting convention Tuesday after almost two months of deliberations, delegates said, amid growing frustration with the slow pace of democratic reforms. Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, chairman of the convention and a leading member of the ruling junta, said in the closing speech that the constitutional convention would adjourn immediately and resume at the end of the year, delegates said.

Myanmar has been without a constitution since 1988, when the military government suspended the existing charter after violently suppressing mass pro-democracy protests.

The junta says the constitution-drafting convention represents a step toward democracy. But critics argue that it cannot reflect the desires of the people when the main opposition party, Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, and other key sectors of society are not taking part.

The junta first convened the constitutional convention in 1993 but suspended it in 1996 after NLD members walked out, saying they were being forced to rubber-stamp the junta's decisions. The NLD boycotted the current convention after the military refused to release Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since May 2003. The NLD won a landslide victory in a 1990 general election but the military would not hand over power, claiming it had to first write a new constitution. Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbors have become impatient with the country's grudging, snail's pace steps toward democracy and have decided to send an envoy, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, to monitor the progress of democracy.

No date has been set for his visit, on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Thein Sein told delegates Tuesday that the session was adjourned to give the convening commission time to prepare for future sessions and study proposals.

The convention would resume "after farmers have finished their cultivation and harvest, and before the end of the year," delegates quoted Thein Sein as saying. He did not specify a date, but Myanmar's harvest period is October and November.

The convention is the first of seven steps in the junta's self-proclaimed roadmap toward democracy and free elections, but the junta has not specified an exact timetable for the completion of the process. The latest closed-door session resumed Dec. 5 at a convention center, reports the AP. I.L.

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