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We are on course for democracy -Burma

Troubled Burma has assured United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari that its seven-step road map towards national reconciliation and democracy has not stalled, despite moving at snail's pace.

Published on November 22, 2007



Singapore

The UN envoy told Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont during a meeting on the sidelines of the Asean summit here yesterday that Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein had told him in a separate meeting that the junta would set up a commission to draft the constitution on December 3.

Gambari told Surayud that his major concern was Burma's slow progress towards national reconciliation and democracy, according to government spokesman Chaiya Yimwilai.

Thailand will have a chance to persuade Thein Sein to speed things up when he visits Bangkok in January, the spokesman told reporters after the Gambari-Surayud meeting.

Purged prime minister Khin Nyunt laid out the seven-step road map for national reconciliation and democracy back in August 2003. The second step was only in mid September this year, when the National Convention finished drafting guidelines for the constitution

The constitution will be written by a commission but the junta has given no time frame as to when it will be finished, raising grave doubts as to when the seven steps will ever be completed.

The slow moves towards democracy also helped stir a political crisis in late September, when huge street protests prompted a military crackdown in which at least 15 protesters were killed and some 3,000 detained.

Assigned by the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to help push the junta-ruled country towards democracy, Gambari has visited Burma four times, most recently in late September and again early this month, and said yesterday he would make his next visit before the end of the year to push for a "substantial part of dialogue" between the junta and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

With the support of East Asian nations and the international community, the UN can make a "difference" in the troubled country as the junta made clear it was willing to work with the UN, he told reporters.

Gambari said his engagement with the junta has a timeline "that will provide the opportunity to breach the deadlock between the junta and the international community that has been going on for quite a number of years".

Gambari was in Singapore this week at the invitation of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who chairs Asean. His plan to brief Asean and East Asian leaders was cancelled at the last minute as Thein Sein objected to the idea.

The UN envoy, who said he was disappointed at not having the chance to brief Asean leaders in a formal setting, arranged an informal meeting on Tuesday with foreign ministers of six Asean nations ,including Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam which he plans to visit soon. Burma was excluded.

Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram said there was a great deal of trust and confidence in Gambari and the UN to create national reconciliation in Burma.

"Of course we have to move forward to democracy, but we also need flexibility because we have to cope with many different people," he told reporters.

"We believe they [the Burmese] want to go the same way. We signed the Asean charter and they also signed, so we are in the same community with the same wish," Nitya said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer who also met Gambari on the sidelines of the Asean summit, urged the East Asian nations, notably China, to reinforce Gambari's mission.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee said Asean would continue engagement with Burma as sanctions were not the solution to bring about national reconciliation.

"We need to put our feet on the ground… in reality," he said, adding that all Asian nations viewed economic sanctions as a bad idea.

Supalak G Khundee

 The Nation


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