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Myanmar junta presses on with 'road map to democracy' as it hunts for activists

Myanmar junta presses on with 'road map to democracy' as it hunts for activists

Myanmar's convention to draft guidelines for a new constitution wrapped up its work Friday, 14 years after it began, as the military government continued to hunt down pro-democracy activists who led recent protests over rising prices.
The convention is the first stage of a so-called road map to democracy implemented by the junta to lead to elections at an unspecified date in the future. Critics say the proceedings are a sham because the junta hand-picked most of the delegates and because pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi _ currently under house arrest _ cannot attend.
A delegate to the convention representing the country's intellectuals said the convention would officially close Monday. He asked not to be named because he was not authorized to release information about the meeting. Details of its work have not been made public.
Some critics say the finished document is not likely to usher in promised democratic reforms or protect the rights of minority groups. Other critics say the whole process has been a stalling strategy to prolong the junta's grip on power.
The next stage in the seven-step road map is supposed to be the drafting of the actual constitution, but it is still not clear who will be entrusted with the task. The document would then be submitted to a national referendum.
The convention, whose final session opened on July 18, finishes up its work as the junta faced the most sustained anti-government demonstrations in a decade.
The military government has detained scores of activists and is employing menacing gangs of hired civilian toughs in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, to snuff out a wave of protests that began Aug. 19 over the government raising fuel prices.
Only one small protest was reported Friday, in the town of Taunggok in Rakhine State, west of Yangon. The Web site of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based opposition shortwave radio station, said two men, Ko Sithu and Ko Than Lwin, held up protest signs at a marketplace.
The report, which could not be independently confirmed, said a soldier punched Ko Sithu and that both protesters were arrested.
Although the protests appear to be losing steam, activists remained defiant.
"I want to implore the people to join hands with us in our movement who have sacrificed our lives and freedom for the good of the people and the country," said Su Su Nway, who is active in labor issues.
The government has ordered neighborhood officials and hotels to be on the lookout for key pro-democracy activists, providing photos and information about them, said a local official who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.
The list of dissidents includes at least one member of the 88 Generation Students group, the most active in carrying out nonviolent anti-government protests. Most of its top members were arrested on Aug. 21, two days after staging the first of the current round of protests.
About a dozen of the group's leaders were reported by state media to be held on charges relating to alleged disruption of the convention, for which they could face up to 20 years in prison.
Su Su Nway is not on the wanted list, but said she has gone into hiding for fear of being detained. A former political prisoner, she has repeatedly taken part in anti-government protests.
"We are peacefully expressing the difficulties that the people of Myanmar are facing, but we are being hunted down like criminals," she told The Associated Press.
In 1988, public protests over rising rice prices were a prelude to a burst of major demonstrations, violently subdued by the army, that sought an end to military rule that began in 1962. The current junta suspended a 1974 charter when it took power.
The current protests are nowhere near the scale of the 1988 protests.
The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when the National League for Democracy, the party of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, won.
In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday that the generals "should heed the international calls to release these activists immediately and stop its intimidation of those Burmese citizens who are promoting democracy and human rights." Myanmar is also known as Burma.