02/20/2008, 00.00
UNITED NATIONS – MYANMAR
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Gambari’s optimism clashing with junta’s rigidity

For the UN envoy the junta’s announced referendum on a draft constitution is a “significant step” forward, it should open the way towards political reforms. But the military regime makes it clear what it means by democracy. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from taking part in the 2010 parliamentary elections.

Singapore (AsiaNews) – For UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, the announcement made by the country’s ruling military junta that it would hold a constitutional referendum was good news. Sadly though, the generals’ main opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, won’t be able to participate; at present she is still under house arrest,.

According to the military’s timetable the referendum will be followed by multiparty parliamentary elections in 2010, and this should open the road to democratic reforms.

But doubts remain about the military government’s sincerity, especially among members of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which have not been dispelled by yesterday’s meeting in Singapore of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to which Myanmar belongs.

Here Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win confirmed that under the new constitution a Myanmar citizen with a foreign spouse and non-citizen children would be disqualified.

Aung San Suu Kyi was married to British Michael Aris, who passed away in 1999, and their two children hold UK citizenship.

Myanmar has had no constitution since 1988. The junta has confirmed that it is finished drafting a new constitutional dispensation to be voted on in the referendum. But not much is known about it.

What is certain is that it will guarantee the generals a strong role at both the executive and legislative levels. Also certain is the fact that the charter was drafted without consulting the NLD, the party that won the last free elections in 1990 but which was prevented from taking office.

Yet Mr Gambari, who began his latest tour of Asia on Monday seeking support from the region’s governments, seems satisfied.

“This is a significant step as it marks the first time that we have an established a time frame for the implementation of its political roadmap,” he said.

On a visit to China, the UN envoy also called on Beijing, an important trading partner with and weapons supplier to Myanmar, to help in the peace process by sending signals to Burma's leaders that they need to cooperate.

The Nigerian diplomat said he expected to be allowed to return to Myanmar in April.

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