India presses Myanmar’s junta on democracy as it plans elections

India presses Myanmar’s junta on democracy as it plans elections
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First Published: Mon, Feb 11 2008. 11 06 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Feb 11 2008. 11 06 PM IST
Sydney: India pressed Myanmar’s junta to start national reconciliation talks and move towards democracy as the military leadership announced it will hold a referendum on a new constitution in May and general election in 2010.
The junta must engage in talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), India’s state-run broadcaster Doordarshan cited Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon as telling leaders during a visit to the country formerly known as Burma that ended Sunday.
The military also announced its programme for a referendum and elections. Singapore, the current chair of the 10-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, said the process must be “inclusive” to boost reconciliation.
The United Nations (UN) has led calls for India, which shares 1,460km border with Myanmar, to take a bigger role in persuading the military to return the country of about 47 million people to democracy. The junta has been under international pressure since it failed to meet pledges to begin talks on political changes made after the most serious anti-government protests in 20 years erupted in September.
The government was condemned around the world after soldiers crushed the demonstrations, killing at least 31 people.
Menon made his visit less than two weeks after Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special envoy to Myanmar, came to New Delhi asking India to be more active with its neighbour, Doordarshan said on its website.
Myanmar must ensure “the political process is an inclusive one that would lead to peaceful national reconciliation in the country,” Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a statement issued on Sunday. The announcement by the government is a “positive development.”
The junta didn’t announce any date for the referendum in May or for the 2010 elections.
“It is still too early to talk about an election,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) cited Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s NLD, as saying on Sunday in the former capital, Yangon.
The NLD was excluded from Myanmar’s National Convention that began in 2004 and completed work on proposed democratic changes in September last year. The US and the UN denounced the process for failing to include the NLD and ethnic groups.
Suu Kyi, 62, remains under house arrest at her home in Yangon where she has been detained since 2003.
The junta appointed labour minister Aung Kyi to talk with Suu Kyi last October. The opposition leader said after the fifth meeting held 30 January she wasn’t “satisfied” with the discussions because the government set no time limit for making progress, AFP reported at the time.
The US last week tightened financial sanctions on the country, targeting business, including companies responsible for buying military aircraft and equipment. It boosted restrictions after the September crackdown on protesters, imposing an asset freeze on junta officials and blacklisting companies and individuals linked to the regime.
The junta rejected a UN report criticizing the use of “excessive force” when soldiers crushed the demonstrations.
China and Russia in January last year vetoed a US resolution at the UN Security Council to press Myanmar to make democratic changes. China, Myanmar’s closest ally, repeated its opposition to sanctions in November.
China supported a UN Security Council statement 17 January that told Myanmar’s military rulers to move faster toward constructive talks with opposition leaders, including Suu Kyi.
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First Published: Mon, Feb 11 2008. 11 06 PM IST