UN envoy holds talks on Myanmar's referendum plans

(dpa) - United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari on Friday held talks on Myanmar's plans to hold a referendum that will enshrine the dominance of the military in the country's politics.

Gambari, who arrived Thursday on a mission to persuade the military to open a political dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has thus far held talks with Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Aung Toe, chairman of the Commission for Holding Referendum for the Approval of the Draft Constitution, sources said.

On Friday afternoon Suu Kyi was allowed to leave her lakeside residence in Yangon, where she has been under house arrest since May, 2003, to meet with Gambari at a state guest house where he is staying.

He was also scheduled to meet with other members of National League for Democracy (NLD) Party, headed by Suu Kyi.

It was Gambari's second visit to the isolated, military-run state since last September's brutal army crackdown on protests in the streets of Yangon that left at least 31 people dead.

Gambari has been tasked to persuade Myanmar's ruling junta to open a political dialogue with Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi and with other representatives of Myanmar society, to forge a national reconciliation process acceptable to the international community.

His efforts, however, have been pre-empted by military supremo Senior General Than Shwe's announcement last month that he will hold a referendum on a new constitution in May this year, to be followed by a general election in 2010, according to analysts.

The two steps are part of the junta's so-called "road map" to democracy, a long and winding path that has already taken 14 years just to draft a new constitution.

The new constitution, drawn up by a military-appointed body, will enshrine the military's lead political role in any future elected government.

A general election, now scheduled at an unknown date in 2010, would put an end once and for all to the legitimate claims to power by Suu Kyi and the NLD that won the 1990 general election by a landslide.

It is anticipated that Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest, will be ineligible for the 2010 election because the new constitution bars anyone married to a foreigner from running for public office.

Suu Kyi was married to the late Michael Aris, a history professor at Oxford University.

Western democracies such as the US and the European Union are still pressuring Myanmar's military to include Suu Kyi in the national reconciliation process.

Since 1962, Myanmar has been ruled by a military regime that has earned itself one of the world's worst human rights records after two brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy movements in 1988 and in September of last year. It has arrested thousands of political dissidents including Suu Kyi.

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