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Burma Rewrites Its Constitution In A Unique Manner

Burma Moves To Re-Write It's Constitution

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Burma's military regime has told delegates creating the country's new constitution they must bathe correctly, avoid junk food and live in a self-contained camp where they can enjoy karaoke, movies and golf.

Washington has criticized the event as a sham, and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party boycotted it because she is detained at her villa in Rangoon under house arrest.

Burma's unelected prime minister, Gen. Khin Nyunt, along with the country's head of state, Gen. Than Shwe, are manipulating collaborators, submissive political groups and others into drafting a constitution which will allow the military to enjoy immunity from severe human rights violations, according to diplomats and Burmese dissidents.

Burma's generals however hailed the process as a "road map to democracy", but indicated the constitution will ensure a future governing role for the military.

"The delegates are advised to put on suitable clothes, avoid having a bath at an unreasonable time and [not] eat junk food," the government-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported, describing how more than 1,000 representatives from urban and rural zones must behave while drafting the constitution.

Burma, a majority Buddhist nation also known as Myanmar, is one of the poorest countries on earth but "TV, karaoke, newspapers, movies, a stage show, gymnasium and golf course are being provided for health and recreation of the delegates," it said.

"A hospital complete with specialists, modern medicine and medical equipment is being opened in the camp while restaurants, a beauty parlor, barber shop, optical shop and grocery shop are being opened for the delegates," the paper added.

The convention, which opened on Monday (May 17), was expected to be long and drawn out, with no schedule announced.

The previous convention met sporadically for about three years until it was officially "postponed" after Mrs. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party walked out claiming it was a rubber stamp for the military.

The regime's future role under the new constitution is no secret.

One of the six "objectives" of the constitutional convention is "for the tatmadaw [military] to be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the state," the report said.

In an apparent dig at Mrs. Suu Kyi, who has received millions of dollars in awards and assistance from abroad, Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan warned delegates "not to accept any other country's patronage."

Delegates must also "avoid speaking ill of others" not express anti-government views, and keep all news about the convention "secret" until announced by the regime, Kyaw Hsan said in a speech.

"Delegates are not allowed to walk out individually or in group and to mock others," he said.

The constitutional convention's opening ceremony was attended by ambassadors representing Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam plus envoys from China, Japan, the United Nations and other groupings, it said.

Delegates represent Burma's political parties, ethnic groups, peasants, workers, intellectuals and government.

Tight censorship has controlled most news emitting from the convention and its residential camp on the outskirts of the capital, Rangoon.

The regime shrugged off the boycott by Mrs. Suu Kyi's widely popular National League for Democracy party apparently because the generals consider her effectively marginalized after years of on-and-off confinement.

The military and its supporters "know that her isolation under house arrest is acceptable to the Burmese people and the international community, so long as everyone knows or believes that she is not mistreated and is allowed a tiny degree of freedom within the walls of her villa," wrote Josef Silverstein, a U.S. academic and noted analyst of Burmese affairs.

The regime may have calculated the United States and Europe are "unwilling to repeat the Iraq experience" while Burma slithers through international sanctions and trades with partners in China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere, said Mr. Silverstein, author of a book tilted, "Burma: Rule and the Politics of Stagnation".

Burma, the biggest country in mainland Southeast Asia, had two previous constitutions: one written in 1974 and an earlier constitution from 1947 when the country attained independence from Britain.

"There is no constitution in operation in Burma currently," said Khin Maung Win, an executive committee member of the pro-democracy, Bangkok-based Burma Lawyers' Council.

"Abolition of the constitution by the military regime in 1988 was due to political reasons, to pave the way for the army to take over state power," he wrote in the latest edition of the group's Legal Issues on Burma Journal.

"Burma has an informal Bill of Rights drawn from Buddha's teaching" -- which are similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- plus common law and international conventions and obligations, he said.

The junta earlier barred Mrs. Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace laureate, from leading Burma despite her National League for Democracy (NLD) party's landslide election victory in 1990.

Mrs. Suu Kyi's recent request to be freed from house arrest was rejected by the military, so her party boycotted the convention.

"The NLD does not believe that it will be able to benefit the nation by participating in the national convention. Therefore the NLD decided that it will not attend," NLD Chairman Aung Shwe told reporters in Rangoon.

**** -ENDS- ****

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is

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