Myanmar's military leaders reopened a long-delayed convention for drafting a constitution Tuesday, after slamming the party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for boycotting the proceedings.
More than 1,000 delegates attended the convention, which human rights groups have denounced as a sham and undemocratic because delegates were hand-picked by the military and neither Suu Kyi nor her National League for Democracy, or NLD, party are taking part.
Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and her opposition group is shunning the convention as undemocratic to protest her continued arrest.
The Nobel Peace laureate has spent nearly 11 of the last 17 years in detention, mostly under house arrest, despite worldwide calls for her freedom along with hundreds of other political prisoners.
The Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, which lobbies against the junta, has cast doubt on whether the eventual constitution will herald democracy and accuses the military of using the constitution to enshrine its rule.
"The Burmese people want real democracy, not a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Aung Din, a former Myanmar political prisoner and policy director for the U.S. Campaign for Burma, reports AP.
The current session, the latest phase in a process that started 13 years ago, is set to last more than two months and comes after an eight-month hiatus.
Delegates met at the Nyaung Hna Pin Convention Center, about 45 kilometers (20 miles) north of Yangon, to lay down basic principles for the new charter. Those involved included politicians, leaders of ethnic groups, workers, peasants, business people, civil servants and intellectuals.
Guards used mirrors to scan the underside of vehicles for bombs amid high security at the convention, which was attended by a large number of diplomats and journalists.
The ruling junta describes the convention as the first step of a seven-point road map to democracy culminating in free elections, although it has set no timetable for the process.