Alternative Asean Network on Burma
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For Immediate Release: 14 February 2008


Altsean-Burma (the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma), a regional human rights group, has condemned the Burmese regime's announced referendum on its illegitimate draft constitution as a last-ditch attempt to stave off growing domestic and international pressure for genuine democratic reforms.

Debbie Stothard, Coordinator for Altsean-Burma, said: "The international community should not be conned into giving the regime another two years to cause more suffering. The regime is notorious for its history of empty promises. Anyone who believes the referendum will be free and fair probably believes in the tooth fairy."

On 9 February, Burma's military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), announced that it will hold a constitutional referendum in May 2008, followed by general elections to be held at an unspecified date in 2010.

The announcement comes as the military regime continues its crack down on political activists and peaceful dissent. Since the beginning of 2008, the SPDC has detained 12 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and two 88 Generation Students. The regime also increased its military strength in Eastern Burma in preparation for renewed offensives against civilians and ethnic opposition groups. To date, military operations in Eastern Burma have displaced more than a half a million people in the world's longest-running war; 76,000 people were displaced in the past year. 25,000 men, women, and children face starvation as a result of the current offensive.

Meanwhile, key ethnic and pro-democracy leaders have been detained, excluded from or gagged during the protracted constitution-drafting process. Jail terms of up to 20 years can still be imposed under Order 5/96 on those who criticize the draft constitution.

Altsean-Burma believes a referendum held in such an oppressive environment would result in more problems than solutions. "If the SPDC is serious about promoting a democratic reform, it must stop arresting activists, cease mass atrocities in ethnic areas, and release all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders, and restart this process through tripartite dialogue," said Ms. Stothard.

Altsean-Burma condemns the SPDCs move to force its people at gunpoint to approve a constitution that is the result of an illegitimate, unrepresentative, and non participatory process.

"The regime wants to impose a constitution that will create more instability and prolong military rule. After more than four decades of military misrule, why should the Burmese want a constitution that gives unfettered power to a President who must come from the military and where 25% of parliamentary seats are allocated to the military?" added Ms. Stothard.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD, and ethnic groups have repeatedly called for immediate, time-bound and inclusive dialogue with the SPDC. The people of Burma cannot afford two more years of repression and economic mismanagement. The international community, including ASEAN, China, India, and the UN Security Council, should intensify pressure to convince the regime to change.


Enquiries: Debbie Stothard, Cellphone +6681 686 1652