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Myanmar junta presses on with 'roadmap to democracy' amid concerns over detainees

Myanmar junta presses on with 'roadmap to democracy' amid concerns over detainees

Myanmar's military government pressed ahead Saturday with its much-decried plans for a new constitution amid international criticism of its iron-fisted crackdown on pro-democracy activists.
U.S. first lady Laura Bush, a U.N. consultant, and human rights group Amnesty International expressed concern over detained protesters held incommunicado by the junta.
The U.N.'s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said Friday in Geneva that he "received allegations that the detainees have been severely beaten and tortured."
The military government has detained scores of activists and is using gangs of hired civilian toughs in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, to crush protests that began Aug. 19 over sharply higher prices for fuel and consumer goods.
While the protests were the most sustained in a decade, they have been winding down in recent days, and none was reported Saturday.
As the protests cooled, a national convention drawing up guidelines for the new constitution completed its tasks Friday and is to formally end on Monday, delegates said.
It is the first stage of the junta's "roadmap to democracy," which it says will lead to elections at an unspecified future date.
Critics say the proceedings are a sham because the junta hand-picked most of the delegates, and because pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi _ currently under house arrest _ cannot attend.
The junta, which Pinheiro says probably holds more than 1,100 political prisoners, has acknowledged detaining about 60 people during the current wave of protests, but opposition activists say the number is closer to 100. Some have been released.
Some detainees started a hunger strike Thursday to demand medical treatment for a colleague who reportedly suffered a broken leg during his arrest Tuesday, according to an associate who insisted on anonymity for fear of official retaliation.
Amnesty International, calling for the release of more than a dozen top activists arrested as the string of protests began, restated its long-standing concerns over the deprivation of basic rights of detainees in Myanmar.
"People are frequently arrested without warrant and held incommunicado," it said in a statement. "Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are common in pretrial detention." Trials fail to meet internationals standards for fairness, it added.
U.S. President George W. Bush has urged Myanmar's government to heed international calls to release the activists and to stop intimidating citizens who are promoting democracy and human rights.
His wife Laura Bush telephoned U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday to urge him to condemn the junta's treatment of dissidents and to press for the Security Council to prevent more violence in Myanmar. A statement released by her office said, "Mrs. Bush noted that by staying quiet, the United Nations _ and all nations _ condone these abuses."
The State Department has said U.S. officials will work to raise the subject of Myanmar at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September.
On Aug. 23, Ban called on Myanmar authorities to exercise maximum restraint in responding to protests and encouraged all parties to avoid provocative action, a statement critics of the junta considered weak.
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 constitution when it took power.
The current protests are nowhere near the scale of those in 1988.
Some critics say the proposed new constitution is not likely to usher in promised democratic reforms or protect minority groups' rights. Other critics say the process has been a stalling strategy to prolong the junta's grip on power.
The next stage in the seven-step roadmap 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.


Updated : 2021-08-04 21:58 GMT+08:00