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PRESS RELEASES, OPEN LETTERS, STATEMENTS

For Immediate Release: 1 March 2008

THE BURMESE REFERENDUM THAT ISN'T - ASEAN URGED TO REJECT "OUTRAGEOUS FARCE"

A Southeast Asian human rights group has condemned the Burmese military regime's planned referendum as an outrageous farce and called on ASEAN to engage in some straight-talk to push for actual reforms in Burma.

Rules for the conduct of the constitutional referendum published in the New Light of Myanmar on 28 February indicate that the regime known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) will ignore abstentions and "no" votes. This adds to disgust over provisions that dictate jail terms for those who speak out against the referendum and bar the Buddhist clergy from voting.

The rules state that the constitution will be adopted by announcing the number of votes cast in favor of the constitution as compared to the total number of eligible voters. Simply put, abstentions and "no" votes are meaningless in determining the outcome of the referendum.

Altsean-Burma Coordinator Debbie Stothard said, "The intentions of the SPDC to force this constitution on Burma's people should now be abundantly clear to everyone - including those who wanted to give the SPDC the benefit of the doubt over this referendum and its so-called roadmap to democracy"

"The SPDC anticipated the possibility of a majority of Burma's people rejecting the proposed constitution and has made a mockery the voting process. What can we expect for their intended election in 2010? Ballot papers that only offer the choice of voting for Than Shwe, Than Shwe, and only Than Shwe?" asked Ms. Stothard, referring to junta head Senior General Than Shwe.

Ms. Stothard urged ASEAN leaders to reject the SPDC's referendum and engage in some straight-talking to pressure the regime to engage in genuine reforms: "The SPDC is assuming that ASEAN will stick to diplomatic murmurings and allow it to continue with this unacceptable farce. An outright rejection by ASEAN will force it to make actual changes. If ASEAN fails to take a strong line on this, it risks being the laughingstock of the international community."

ASEAN must push for UN Special Advisor on Burma Ibrahim Gambari to return to Burma and insist that the National League for Democracy and ethnic groups be allowed to negotiate a review and redraft of the proposed constitution and any subsequent political process.

On 29 February, the Burma Partnership, an alliance that includes Altsean-Burma, urged ASEAN to reject the SPDC's proposed constitution.

ENDS

Enquiries: Debbie Stothard, cellphone +6681 686 1652 or Anelyn de Luna +6681 403 4830