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Democracy cannot be hurried: Myanmar junta leader

Written by: Staff

Pyinmana (Myanmar), Mar 27: Myanmar's generals are in no hurry to hand over to civilian rulers despite international pressure to speed up democratic reforms, paramount leader Than Shwe said today.

Addressing 10,000 troops on parade in a new capital deep in jungle-clad mountains, Senior General Than Shwe defended a seven-step ''roadmap to democracy'' criticised by the West and even regional neighbours for being too vague and too slow.

''Today, the Tatmadaw and the people are striving together for the emergence of a democratic state and these are tasks which need time to be implemented,'' the 74-year-old strongman told members of the armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw.

''We have conceived a plan so that our people can avoid the danger of facing a perilous solution that could lead to the country's annihilation,'' he said.

The military, which has ruled one of Asia's poorest countries for more than 40 years, says moving too fast towards democracy could fuel ethnic tensions and tear the country apart.

The junta says it is in the middle of the first step towards drafting a new constitution, but has given no timetable for elections.

The generals ignored the last election in 1990 won by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. She has been detained since May 2003.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar cut short a fact-finding trip to Myanmar last week after he was refused a meeting with Suu Kyi. He later declared the visit a success.

Myanmar's normally acquiescent partners in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are tiring of the generals' intransigence and last year forced them to forgo their scheduled presidency of the 10-strong group in 2006.

Analysts have speculated that Myanmar, fed up with the criticism from its neighbours, may one day pull out of ASEAN.

Than Shwe made no mention of the Malaysian mission, but he said ASEAN's principle of regional unity should serve as an example to his people to ''stay together harmoniously''.


The ceremony to mark Armed Forces Day was held for the first time in the new administrative capital, Naypyidaw, a sprawling complex secretly built in the hills near the lumber town of Pyinmana, 240 miles north of Yangon.

Than Shwe, who rarely makes public appearances, wore a crisp brown uniform as he reviewed seven columns of army, navy and airforce personnel while foreign defence attaches looked on.

The ceremony was broadcast live on state television, giving the country its first glimpse of the new capital since the junta announced the shock move from Yangon last November.

The generals say the move, which irked neighbours trying to keep Myanmar engaged with the outside world, will make it easier to run the country of 54 million people.

Analysts say the move may have stemmed from paranoia about a US invasion, or fear of a popular uprising if the economy continued to deteriorate, or perhaps it was a warning written in the stars for Myanmar's astrologically obsessed generals.

Than Shwe made no mention of the dusty new capital, which looks like a huge construction site. Scores of unfinished buildings line dirt roads, while an eight-lane highway leading out of town is under construction.

Civil servants, who received a hefty pay increase from the junta this weekend, mostly complained about the poor water supply, a shortage of transport and boredom.

''I'll probably save some money if I stay here. I'm single and I'm not after any amusement or pleasure,'' Ko Soe Aung, a middle-ranking clerk, told Reuters.


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