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China's role in Burma's National Convention

Recently, Burma's ruling junta announced that its constitution-drafting National Convention would reconvene today, and that this session would be its last - putting a long-awaited end to the controversial process that began in 1993.

Published on July 18, 2007

This is the first time the junta has confirmed that it would put an end to the marathon convention. Moreover, just before a state visit to China, National Convention chairman Lt-General Thein Sein promised to review previous chapters and make amendments as necessary to their flaws and weaknesses during this session.

Many parties, including Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), are now looking for a chance to participate in the final discussions. "We are very interested in that. This is because we have the desire to cooperate within the National Convention," said U Thein Nyunt, a spokesperson for NLD National Convention affairs.

"We have stated that the six basic principles, which the National Convention had set as its objectives, should be considered as issues for deliberation when drafting the constitution and we said the same thing for the 104 detailed basic principles also," he added.

But Htang Ko Htam, an ethnic elected MP and a member of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament (CRPP), which was founded by the NLD and ethnic parties, gave a different view. "This is just a plot by the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] to lie again and again," he said. "Thein Sein's reviewing means that he will just change the new capital from Yangon [Rangoon] to Naypyidaw. There is no hope for political review anyway."

Nai Aung Mange, a spokesperson for the Thai-Burma border based cease-fire group New Mon State Party (NMSP) expressed a similar view: "We want to know clearly what the National Convention chairman's words mean before entering the National Convention compound. Otherwise, we have no chance to send proper representatives." NMSP sent only three observers during the last session after authorities refused some of their proposals.

However, Colonel Tu Jar, deputy-chairman of the China-Burma border based cease-fire group Kachin Independent Army (KIA) felt otherwise. "We understand that the National Convention chairman will be reviewing all chapters since 1993. We also have to raise some issues for ethnic affairs, especially in ethnic-army controlled areas which they refused during the last session," he said.

But observers say the KIA and many cease-fire groups along the China-Burma border have hidden agendas. "My understanding is that the KIA, the UWSA [United Wa Sate Army], the SSAN [Shan State Army-North] and the Kokant army are now training recruits. Military strong-minded leaders took back top posts in recent meetings," says Aung Kyaw Zaw, a defence analyst and a former top official of Burma's Communist Party, which once controlled the four-ethnic armies.

"China might play a key role in the coming National Convention," he claimed. This is because not only was a rare meeting between US senior officials and Burmese ministers held recently on China's soil "but some top leaders of those four ethnic armies are now in Kunming [to talk to Chinese officials]", he explained. Chinese officials will discuss the National Convention with them as well as future stability along the border, he said.

Neither Colonel Tu Jar, nor any other official from the four armies mentioned would comment on this information. Many observers however believe that China has been playing a key role in Burmese politics since the country used its veto to stop a United Nations Security Council resolution on Burma last year. Meanwhile, rumours in Rangoon have begun to circulate that China has asked the Burmese generals to talk with the NLD before the National Convention kicks off.

"We have not yet reached any agreement on an official meeting," replied U Thein Nyunt. "But we are trying to solve our situation as best we can. We also hope China might understand our situation."

Htet Aung Kyaw

Special to The Nation


Htet Aung Kyaw is a senior journalist for the Oslo-Based "Democratic Voice of Burma" radio and TV stations.

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