Blast in Myanmar as constitution talks resume


  • World
  • Monday, 05 Dec 2005

By Darren Schuettler

YANGON (Reuters) - An explosion wounded two people in Myanmar's capital on Monday as the military junta resumed constitutional talks dismissed by critics as a smokescreen to further entrench more than four decades of army rule. 

The cause of the blast inside a 2-storey building in Yangon's Lanmadaw township was not clear, but the capital has been under tight security since three bomb attacks killed 11 people in May. 

Lt.General Thein Sein, Secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council and Chairman of the National Convention Convening Committee, speaks at the opening ceremony of the convention centre in Nyaunghnapin Camp, on the outskirts of Yangon, December 5, 2005. (REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom)

"It could be a gas explosion but we are still investigating," a police source told Reuters as officers quickly sealed off the area. 

Earlier on Monday, the military government accused "destructive elements" of seeking to disrupt its constitution-drafting National Convention, which resumed for a third session at a specially-built compound 40 km from Yangon. 

With opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and her National League for Democracy (NLD) staying away, critics say the convention is a ploy by the generals who overruled Suu Kyi's 1990 election victory. 

The government insists it is determined to implement its road map to democracy announced in 2003 but has set no timetable. 

"We are in the middle of implementing the first step of the seven-step plan to transition to a genuine, disciplined democracy," Lieutenant-General Thein Sein said in reopening the convention. 

"We have to follow these steps without fail. There is no other way," said Thein Sein, chairman of the convention's convening committee and the junta's fourth ranked general. 

The military, which has ruled the former Burma in various guises since 1962, has come under fire from Western governments and human rights groups for the slow pace of democratic reforms. 

At the behest of the United States, which has labelled Myanmar an "outpost of tyranny", the U.N. Security Council has agreed to discuss for the first time the situation in the impoverished country of 54 million people. 

Southeast Asian lawmakers meeting in Kuala Lumpur last week said that Myanmar should be expelled from the ASEAN regional grouping unless it frees Suu Kyi and other political prisoners within a year and make meaningful reforms. 

"DESTRUCTIVE ELEMENTS" 

Thein Sein exhorted the more than 1,000 delegates to the constitution-drafting body -- clad in colourful feathered head dresses, tribal costumes and animal horn helmets -- to guard against destructive internal and foreign elements seeking to disrupt their work. 

"We hear about and witness almost daily the losses and damage in some nations which have been bullied into a transition to democracy," he said. 

"The entire people are aware of this. The people today cannot be lied to, cheated or intimidated." 

But on the streets of Yangon, there was little interest in the talks being held 40 km (25 miles) from the capital in a special military compound. 

"Most of us don't expect anything to come out of this," said one currency dealer. 

The junta says its democracy roadmap will eventually lead to elections and the return of civilian rule. But critics point to a key objective of the convention which ensures a "leadership role" for the military in politics, including 25 percent of seats in a new parliament. 

"The ball is in the government's court," one Yangon-based diplomat said, noting that ethnic groups have been marginalised in the talks. 

The New Mon State Party, an armed ethnic group that agreed a ceasefire in 1995, sent only observers on Monday after its concerns presented at the last session in February "had not been taken under serious consideration", a spokesman said. 

The country's biggest rebel group, the Karen National Union, has never joined the talks and two Shan groups pulled out earlier this year after the junta arrested some of their leaders. 

Suu Kyi's NLD, which won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the army, is boycotting the convention while the Nobel Peace laureate remains under house arrest. The junta extended her detention for another six months on Nov. 27. 

Most of the 1,074 delegates were handpicked by authorities in their respective regions to represent all walks of life in the Southeast Asian nation of 54 million people. 

(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun) 

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