`Window dressing'

May 12, 2004

ON MONDAY, 14 years after a pack of generals stole control of Myanmar from a legally elected democracy party, the still-ruling military junta will convene a national constitutional convention to which it has invited its long-suppressed opponents. In advance, the National League for Democracy, which won those last parliamentary elections in 1990, has been allowed to reopen an office. And there's mounting anticipation that its leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will be released from house arrest to participate in the national political conference.

If this sounds all too familiar, it should. Those concerned with the brutal suppression of freedom in the nation once known as Burma have been down this road before - in 1996 and, more recently, last year, when the indomitable Ms. Suu Kyi and her supporters, briefly free to speak out, came under violent ambush leading to her last rearrest. Her release now - it would be her third since her first arrest in 1989 - would be welcome, but it also would impart credibility to a political process that Sen. Mitch McConnell has aptly denounced as "window dressing."

All but a few of the more than 1,000 convention delegates are said to be hand-picked supporters of the generals. Even as the illegal regime talks of a new road map to resolving this long standoff with the NLD, 1,300 political prisoners remain jailed, and in recent weeks more dissidents reportedly have been receiving long sentences. Ms. Suu Kyi's party is in a tough spot: It can boycott the convention as a sham and be accused by the regime of being noncooperative, or it can legitimize a sham. Either way, the Yangon generals again seem to be stringing along the world.

All this speaks to the need for the U.S. Senate to act quickly to renew import sanctions placed on Myanmarese goods after Ms. Suu Kyi was rearrested last year. And this time, sanctions must be followed by a U.S. diplomatic campaign - with the generals, their Southeast Asian apologists and the U.N. Security Council - that will be more strongly focused on forcing the junta to begin sharing power.

Ms. Suu Kyi has deservedly gained world renown as a symbol of the Burmese quest for freedom, but she also is just one of 50 million people who remain under this regime's lock and key.

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