Written by U Ne Oo on 2000-10-16
-- Hon Rajsoomer Lallah QC (E/CN.4/1997/64)
This year, Burma has been marked by the political stalemate between the opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and the ruling military junta, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). In spite of the pressures and persuasions by the international community, the junta leaders show no sign of moving towards reconciliation with the opposition and ethnic minorities. Despite the ethnic minority rebels offering to enter a cease-fire, the junta intensified its military campaign to wipe out the rebels. Crackdowns on National League for Democracy (NLD, the winner of May 1990 general elections) have continued throughout the year. At the time of preparing this report, the members of the Committee Representing the People�s Parliament � a parallel parliamentary authority set up in 1998 by the National League for Democracy party -- have been put under house arrest.
As in earlier years, the junta continues to ignore the appeal by the Commission on Human Rights and United Nations General Assembly to implement the annual resolutions. The recommendations by the ILO Commission of Inquiry into the practice of forced labor have also been ignored. The persistent refusal by the junta to cooperate with United Nations agencies has prompted the ILO to issue an ultimatum to end forced labor in Burma �in law and in practice� by the end of November 2000.
As the political stalemate in Burma continues, the humanitarian situation for the people of Burma has deteriorated. The rapid militarization of the state apparatus by the junta has brought an unprecedented food scarcity for the Burmese people. The state of social welfare for the Burmese people, such as health and education, has deteriorated to a point where experts warn of a �silent emergency�. The abject poverty of the general population is directly threatening social stability. The food insecurity and, consequently, malnutrition of the children have been threatening to undermine future developments for Burma. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is spreading out of control within the country and has been threatening the people of Burma as well as that of neighboring countries.
Because of the dysfunctional judicial system, corruption within the government has become common. Burmese military officers, as well as the rank-and-file, are reported to be engaged in illicit drug production and trafficking. Military authorities at top level are reportedly engaged in drug money laundering. There are reports of high-ranking military officers, including the first secretary of the junta, acquiring shares in heroin refineries and amphetamine laboratories. The large scale trafficking of amphetamine-type-stimulants into Thailand by ethnic rebel groups, which signed cease-fire accords with Burmese military, were reported throughout the year.
The United Nations and international community�s failure to solve problems in Burma have prolonged the suffering of displaced people of Burma. The 22,000 Rohingya minority refugees, who have been in UNHCR administered camps in Bangladesh, have languished for another year without any viable solution in sight. In Thailand, the estimated one million displaced Burmese workers, together with 120,000 ethnic minority refugees, have been struggling for a further year. In Burma�s western border, the Indian authorities routinely round-up and deport Burma�s ethnic Chin refugees who are fleeing from forced labor and religious persecutions.
The lack of attention by the international community to the struggle for democracy in Burma may have compelled some members of exiled Burmese students to resort to violent methods. In October 1999, the Burmese students in exile held hostage the staff-members of the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok and demanded democracy in Burma. In January 2000, a group of under-aged guerrillas from Burma staged a siege of the Ratchaburi provincial hospital in Thailand, demanding the Thai army stop shelling their comrades inside Burma. It is a warning sign that ethnic and political conflicts in Burma have began to spill over its border.
The political repression and lack of real engagement in political dialogue with opposition groups are the main source of all tragedies in Burma today. As for the international community, it is unrealistic to assume the Burmese military regime will move away from the military solution and will voluntarily engage in political dialogue with the opposition. By the same token, it is unrealistic to expect Burmese people to forget about the result of the election held in May 1990 and the momentum of democratic opposition to dissipate with the passage of time. It is the time for the international community to put forward a concerted effort to end the political and humanitarian crises in Burma. The United Nations General Assembly, together with UN Security Council, must take concrete steps to solve the political and humanitarian crises in Burma.
2.1 The Stalemate
There are disturbing signs of the Burmese military leaders moving away from dialogue with opposition and ethnic minority groups, notably after the junta�s name change in November1997  . On the other hand, the international community and Burmese democrats throughout these years have heavily invested their efforts to secure dialogue with the junta. Since 1998, when the National League for Democracy (NLD) made the initiative to convene the parliament, the junta has intensified its crackdown on elected representatives as well as NLD supporters with the intent to decimate the opposition party. The latest arrests of opposition party leaders, especially the members of Committee Representing the People�s Parliament, have been a clear indication of top junta leaders� unwillingness to enter dialogue with the opposition.
As regards the cease-fire with the Karen National Union, the rebel leadership has been prepared for negotiation. The careful change of leadership in the KNU early this year indicated that the rebels were making the necessary preparations to negotiate with the junta . The Burmese military, on the other hand, have mounted military offensive on the KNU throughout the year in order to wipe out the rebels. This is another indication of the junta�s inclination to use military solutions to solve the ethnic minority problems.
The changes in personal circumstances of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in recent years may also have given the junta less room to maneuver. Prior to 1995-96, the SPDC/SLORC appeared to be working on political plans based on the assumption that a new election may be held under a pro-military constitution, since the normal four years parliamentary term for the May 1990 general election had elapsed. The junta released Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995 with a plan to hold a new election along with the plot to exclude her from participating in Burmese politics. As it turns out, the May 1990 general election results had to be observed before any new election could be held and the junta�s plan to write a pro-military constitution was thwarted by the NLD. The changing personal attributes of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has also put the junta in an even harder position to contemplate on a new election.
The junta�s increasingly un-reconciliatory stance against the opposition in recent years can therefore be understood in the following context. As the people�s movement at home and abroad has strengthened its resolve to restore democracy in Burma, the military junta has less and less political space to maneuver. The junta�s legitimacy to stay in power has also eroded because its political plans, such as framing pro-military constitution, pacifying with ethnic rebels and building a free-market economy; have increasingly been undermined by the opposition movement. On the one hand, the military, from the outset, has never been interested in sharing political power with the opposition. Only now such an uncompromising stance by junta is coming into the full view of the public as the opposition articulates its negotiation plans.
The military is unlikely to change its position unless the international community lend legitimacy to the Committee Representing the People�s Parliament in accordance with the result of May 1990 general elections.
2.2 The roadmap to transition
A possible roadmap for transition to democracy based on the results
of May 1990 general election was already been proposed in early 1998 
. This plan suggests the current military government, State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC/SLORC), and elected representatives of May 1990 general election
to form an interim administration. The SPDC/SLORC may principally retain
executive power whilst the elected representatives should assume legislative
power. The following is a summary of a proposed roadmap for transition
to democracy in Burma.
2.3 The mandate of CRPP
(i) A period of 2-3 years should be considered as a transitional period, and an interim administration should be formed; The SPDC/SLORC cabinet may retain the Executive Power, and the current Chairman of SPDC/SLORC, General Than Shwe, may allow to be remained as the Head of State in this interim period; The elected parliament of May 1990 will operate as Legislature and the Central Executive Committee of National League for Democracy, primarily, will run the Legislature; Appropriate committees under the Legislature should be set up to carry out various tasks, including the writing of democratic federal constitution, during the interim period; To achieve coordination between the Legislature and Executive, the delegates of military authorities may be included in various committees of the legislature; By the end of the interim period, a referendum should be held to approve the constitution. The decision should also be made by the Executive and Legislature to hold by-elections to replace missing/deceased/retired representatives. The transfer of power to the elected representatives should be made at the end of the interim period.
In September 1998, the representatives elected in the May 1990 general election formed a parallel parliamentary authority, known as the Committee Representing the People�s Parliament (CRPP), in accordance with internationally accepted norms. The CRPP has the power to act as Burma�s parliament until actual parliament can be convened. The detailed discussion about the mandate of representative-elects of the May 1990 general elections with the background on formation of CRPP has been published elsewhere  . It will suffice here to summarize the mandate entrusted to CRPP by the elected representatives:
- Legal and juridical continuity of administration: The elected parliament, when it comes into force, is expected to review and revise, as necessary, all laws, orders and decrees that were promulgated by the SLORC(SPDC);
- Regarding constitution of Burma: The elected representatives of May 1990 are expected to taken charge of the framing of Burmese constitution;
- The term of parliament and next election: Although ten years has elapsed since the general elections in Burma were held, the conventional four year mandate of the parliament could not begin until the representatives elected in May 1990 are seated and bestowed with power. The elected government, after the transfer of power, is expected to set the term of parliament and the date of the next election.
The major destabilizing factors in Burma are the continuing political oppression and deteriorating humanitarian situation for the Burmese people. On the other hand, Burma�s refugee problem which rooted in the continuing violations of human rights in Burma, and the military junta�s complicity in the illicit drug production and trafficking are the threats to regional security. The international community and United Nations must take steps to tackle the problems in a comprehensive manner.
3.1 Illicit drug production and trafficking
Burma is the second largest producer of opium and heroin in the world. The studies show that the production and trafficking of heroin has risen significantly since the military junta struck a cease-fire with various rebel groups in Shan State in 1989. The way in which the junta initiates and maintains the cease-fire with these drug-producing rebels has already been analysed by various scholars and therefore will not be repeated here. Instead, the attention is drawn to the cases of Burmese military leaders as well as rank-and-file members who are now directly involved in production and trafficking of illicit drugs. For example, the first secretary of the junta, Lt. General Khin Nyunt, along with other high ranking military officers are reportedly involved in the drug trade  :
In recent years, the ethnic Wa rebels in Shan State have diversified their drug production and sales to amphetamine-type-stimulants (ATS) tablets. Unlike heroin, the ATS production and sales are targeted to the population in neighboring Thailand. There are 50 amphetamine laboratories operating in Burma with estimated 600 million ATS tablets entering Thailand during this year. The cheap and widely available ATS tablets from Burma have been a great concern to the administration in Thailand. In June 2000 the Far Eastern Economic Review reported that the Royal Thai Army, so concerned by the lack of other remedial measures against Burmese illicit drugs, had even prepared to launch a covert operation to destroy amphetamine laboratories located inside Burma  . Such action is unlikely to foster stability for Burma and Thailand, especially amongst Burma�s ethnic minorities. Drug related corruption has also been threatening the integrity of democratic institutions within Thailand. The international community therefore must immediately look into the drug problem in Burma in order to prevent possible conflict between Burma and Thailand.
Udoubtedly, the undesirable influences of the illicit drug industry in Burma have also had an impact on the rest of Southeast Asia. The pervasive corruption that originated in drug trades has been threatening the integrity of political institutions. Money laundering by criminal enterprises, on the one hand, has distorting effects on the Burmese economy  . The trafficking of heroin within the region has also contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS among drug users  . Above all, the readily available illicit drugs, combined with the existence of criminal elements within society, is a threat to human security. The UN General Assembly together with the Security Council must take immediate steps to remedy the problem.
3.2 Refugees and Displaced People
3.2.1 Refugees in Thailand: Following the Embassy siege in October 1999, the Thai authorities mounted crackdowns on the Burmese dissidents and political refugees. Thai authority�s crackdowns on Burmese dissidents have intensified after the God Army, an under-aged Karen rebel group, took over the Ratchaburi provincial hospital, demanding the Thai army stop shelling their base. Thai authorities put Burmese student exiles under detention in the camp, discouraged new arrivals and threatened to close the camp down by the end of next year. It appears to be the Thai authorities intending to reduce the number of Burmese refugees in Bangkok and other urban centres  . There have also been instances of Thai authorities forcibly repatriating Burmese workers into conflict zones  .
As the human rights situation in Burma worsens, hundreds of ethnic minority people from Karen, Karenni and Shan state are entering Thailand every month throughout the year  .On a positive note, however, the Royal Thai Government allowed the UNHCR to extend its monitoring activities to 120,000 of Karen and Karenni ethnic minority refugees. Yet, the Thai government still does not allow the UNHCR to monitor or to provide humanitarian assistance to 100,000 Shan refugees in Thailand.
Since July 1999, there has been a public pronouncement by the Royal Thai Government, particularly by the National Security Council, to repatriate all refugees from Burma within three years. So far the Thai NSC has only made a request to the UNHCR in Bangkok to set up a safe area within the Burmese border. However, the Royal Thai Government has not made this request formally at the United Nations General Assembly or at the UN Security Council. If the political stalemate in Burma continues, the Royal Thai Government should urge the UN Security Council to set up a �safe zone� for the refugees, including protection from international peace-keeping forces.
3.2.2 Refugees in Bangladesh: The international community�s inability to find a durable solution for 22,000 Burma-Rohingya refugees has left these people another year in limbo  . Neither resettlement nor repatriation for these refugees stands out as a viable solution. The inability of UNHCR to redress the human rights violation and improve the humanitarian situation for Rohingya -- such as citizenship, forced labor and food scarcity � are causing a reverse flow of 100,000 refugees during this year  . The UNHCR refuses to acknowledge there is a reverse flow and is preparing to reduce its presence in Arakan by the end of next year.
Unfortunately, scaling down the involvement of UNHCR in Arakan will have severe consequences for 230,000 Rohingya-returnees. The UNHCR must extend its protection mandate and the period of its stay in Arakan until all Rohingyas can enjoy an acceptable level of human rights, and most important of all, citizenship rights. The lack of citizenship for Rohingya has also been a major problem for finding a durable solution for Rohingyas in Malaysia  .
3.2.3 Refugees in India: In addition to 800 Burmese political refugees in New Delhi, up to 50,000 Chin hill tribe people have now been displaced in Mizoram and Manipur -- the eastern states of India. During this year, there are reports of the Indian authorities deporting the displaced Chin people who are at risk of suffering at the hands of the Burmese military  ,  . The international community must call for the government of India to protect Chin refugees.
3.3 Humanitarian concerns
The junta putting budgetary priority on expansion and maintenance of the army causes the decline in spending on social welfare and human development, such as health and education  ,  . A recent report by the World Health Organization graded Burma as 190th in overall health system performance of 191 countries it surveyed  . According to the World Bank�s study in 1999, Burma has been one of the poorest country in the world. Life expectancy at birth is 60 years. Infant mortality rate is 79 per thousand births, which is double compared to that of the rest in Asia. Child malnutrition rates are very high and represent a "silent emergency"  . Acute poverty exists within the urban population, which is reported to be living on a one-meal-per-day basis  .
There has been great urgency to contain the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Burma  . The spread of this disease has been accelerated by the easy availability of heroin; together with other social factors such as non-openness to HIV/AIDS related information. There are more than 440,000 HIV/AIDS cases in Burma, according to UNAIDS program estimates  .
As has been discussed elsewhere, the best and most efficient way to improve the economic, social and cultural rights of the population is through an open government that is accountable to the population  . In the absence of a democratically elected government in Burma, the next possible option is to directly work with the grass-roots communities to remedy these problems. To this end, the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council must demand that the Burmese junta grant unhindered access for all humanitarian organizations wishing to work in Burma.
3.4 Deaths in custody and massacres
Although the junta in May 1999 allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross access to 18,000 prisoners in Burma, we continue to receive reports of unduly harsh treatment of prisoners by authorities  . In some cases, the individuals, within law enforcement as well as prison systems, have treated prisoners with the clear intent to cause death or destruction of life. The Special Rapporteur in his report A/53/364 Para. (61) recommended an independent inquiry into the deaths of Mr Nichols in June 1996 and U Thein Tin in February 1998. There are also 45 persons known to have died in custody since 1988 whose cases need to be investigated  .
There has been an alarming trend of the Burmese army dealing with ethnic minority rebels. Over the years, there has been the lack of observation of internationally accepted humanitarian law by government troops in military operations against rebels. In particular, the brutality against Shan ethnic minority civilians by Burmese troops has been most alarming. In mid-1997, there was a reported massacre of 300 civilians in Shan State. Amnesty International reported that the Burmese army killed at least 100 Shan civilians in the first five months of this year. During May 2000, the 64 unarmed civilians including women and children from a village in Kung-hing district in Shan State were shot dead by the Burmese army  . Certainly, remedial measures must be sought to address these injustices.
The judicial system in Burma is under effective control of the military government. Further, the possibility for establishing an independent judiciary in Burma seems still remote. Therefore, the United Nations and international community must open an inquiry into the death in custody cases and massacres in Burma and bring to justice those who are found responsible.
3.5 Forced labor
The widespread use of unpaid forced labor by Burmese military has been a longstanding concern for the international community. Reflecting this concern, the International Labor Organization set up a Commission of Inquiry in July 1996. In July 1998, the Commission published its findings, which states that the Burmese junta is "� guilty of an international crime that is also, if committed in a widespread or systematic manner, a crime against humanity"  .
Historically, the Burmese army exaction of unpaid labor has been limited to the cases of forced porterage during military operations and forced labor in the government�s infrastructure projects. However, following the 1997 junta�s program of self-sufficiency for civil servants, including its troops, the junta has instructed the army to grow their own food. Since then the Burmese army exaction of forced labor appears to have widen the scope. There are reports of the army forcing civilians to work on military-owned farms  .
On 14 May 1999 the SPDC/SLORC issued Order No. 1/99 directing local civilian authorities "not to exercise the powers conferred on them" under the Village Act (1908) or the Towns Act (1907). In May 2000, the ILO technical cooperation mission visited Rangoon. However, the SPDC/SLORC made no concrete commitment to stop the practice of forced labor. On 14 June 2000, the International Labor Conference has adopted a resolution to ensure Burma comply with 1998 Commission of Inquiry recommendations. The ILO has given the Burmese government November 30, 2000 as a deadline to respond.
Given the complex and pervasive nature of forced labor, the ILO should establish an in-country monitoring mission to Burma to remedy the problem. As for rewriting the Village Act and Town Acts, the Committee Representing the People�s Parliament with supervision of UN Commission on Human Rights must formally repeal these laws. The UN General Assembly and Security Council must given support to these measures.
4. Prospects for peace in Burma
/* -- */ Over the years different countries have taken different approaches to remedy problems in Burma, with different assumptions about how to handle ethnic minority issues and, especially, the results of the May 1990 general election. With a politically just roadmap for transition towards democracy now in hand, the international community must strive in unison to this end.
The emergence of dialogue between the junta and opposition including ethnic minority groups has been the key to a peaceful settlement in Burma. With the CRPP mobilizing to write a federal constitution -- a condition of which the last remaining rebel group, Karen National Union, consider a basis to lay down their arms � one can certainly foresee the end to Burma�s longstanding ethnic inequality problem  . The United Nations General Assembly must therefore give unequivocal support to CRPP writing constitution of Burma.
At this UN General Assembly, the international community should recognize the Committee Representing the People�s Parliament as well as Burma�s Parliament as the Legislative body for Burma. The UNGA should also support CRPP to write Burma�s constitution and to rewrite forced labor laws. UN General Assembly and Security Council must also make initiatives to solve Burma�s refugee problem. Efforts should also be made to curb heroin and amphetamine production and trafficking and punish those army officers involved in drug trade. The international community and United Nations must also bring to justice to those responsible for human rights abuses, especially cases of deaths in custody and massacres in Burma.
4.1.1 Recommendation to Burma�s neighboring governments:
- The Government of Thailand should formally raise the issue of Burmese refugees and displaced workers at this UN General Assembly and Security Council; urge the UN Security Council to set up a safe zone under protection of international peacekeeping force as necessary; also raise the problem of illicit drugs from Burma with the UN Security Council.
- The Government of India should give protection to Chin ethnic minority refugees in Mizoram and Manipur; and allows UNHCR and international NGOs to visit these areas.
- The Government of Bangladesh should vigorously raise the issue of Rohingya languishing in the camps; urge the international community to provide lasting solution for 22,000 refugees.
4.1.2 Recommendation to United Nations agencies
- The ILO Governing Body urges the UN Security Council to support setting up an in-country human rights monitor for Burma;
- The UNHCR promotes a Memorandum of Understanding with Burmese authorities that comprehensively cover all aspects of safe and voluntary return of refugees, with particular emphasis on upholding the human rights of returnees.
- Recognize formation of Committee Representing the People�s Parliament(CRPP) and highlight the mandate of CRPP in the UNGA resolutions;
- Support the initiative of CRPP to write a federal constitution of Burma and rewrite the Village Act and Towns Acts in Burma;
- Recognize that Burma�s refugee problem is a threat to the security of Thailand and encourage Thailand and all Burma�s neighbors to solve Burma�s refugee problem with the help of the United Nations;
- Recommend sending in an in-country human rights monitor to Burma; and request the UN Security council to create unhindered access to Burma for all international human rights and humanitarian organizations and, especially, the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur;
- Note that Burma is producing and exporting illicit drugs to neighboring countries which is threatening human security; and also note the increasing corruption within the military government of Burma and requests the UN Security Council to look into these matters;
- Authorize the UN Commission on Human Rights to set up an independent inquiry to the cases of deaths in custody and also the massacres in Shan State during 1997-2000;
- Note that Burma�s non-cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanism is the violation of UN Charter 55 & 56;
- Withdraw the voting rights of the Burmese military delegation at all United Nations forums, including the UN General Assembly;
- Impose an international investment ban until Burma satisfactorily improves its human rights and cooperates with the United Nations;
- Request UN Security Council to impose an international arms embargo on Burma.
- Recognize Burma�s production and sales of illicit drug to neighboring countries is a threat to international peace and security;
- Take note of top level Burmese military leaders who are involved in the production and sales of illicit drugs;
- Demand the Burmese military government to immediately give unhindered access to Burma for international human rights and humanitarian organizations and UN Special Rapporteur;
- Recognize Burma�s refugee problem is threatening the security of neighboring countries and demand the Burmese military government to unreservedly cooperate with UN High Commissioner for Refugees to solve this problem;
- Impose an international investment ban and international arms embargo on Burma.
- Far Eastern Economic Review, "Flash Point", 1st June 2000.
- Asian Legal Resource Centre, "Food Scarcity in Myanmar", E/CN.4/2000/NGO/61.
 For example, extra-ordinary high price of real estates in Burma in 1992-96 can be attributed to money laundering. On the one hand, a normal small business -- a restaurant or a transport company, for example -- cannot possibly compete with a drug runner whose main aim is to launder drug money.
 South East Asian Information Network, "Out of Control 2, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Burma", November 1998. The characteristic of the spread of HIV virus is studied by genetic testing; one in which it shows HIV-1 Subtype C has been found spreading along a major heroin trafficking route leading from Burma to north-west China.
 Sunday Times (UK), 1 October 2000. James Mowdsley, a British citizen and human rights campaigner held in a Burmese jail in Shan State, was severely beaten by the prison guards for his peaceful protest against prison conditions.
 Amnesty International, "Myanmar: Exodus from the Shan State", AI Indes: ASA 16/11/00, July 2000. See also reports by Amnesty International "Myanmar: The Kayin (Karen) state militarization and human rights", AI Indes: ASA 16/12/99, June 1999; "Myanmar: Aftermath--three years of dislocation in Kayah State", AI Index ASA 16/14/99, JUne 1999.
September 16 8:54 AM ET
Suu Kyi Party To Draft Constitution
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Myanmar's democratic opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi declared Saturday it would draft a national constitution, in a sign that a recent official crackdown against the party has not dented its ambitions to end military rule.
Two hundred members of the National League for Democracy held a meeting at the party's Yangon headquarters. At the meeting, the party commemorated the second anniversary of its Committee Representing People's Parliament (CRPP) - a proxy parliament formed as a direct challenge to the ruling military government, which has refused to honor the NLD's 1990 general election victory.
The NLD passed three resolutions at Saturday's meeting: to demand the government release all political prisoners; to maintain the proxy parliament until a proper parliament is convened; and to draft a national constitution. According to a 1996 law, drafting a charter without the government's approval could result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
A state-organized national convention was set up seven years ago but was boycotted by the NLD on the grounds it was dominated by the regime. It has not met for four years and has not produced a constitution.
``With the support of the people and with support from countries who support democracy, a democratic government will certainly emerge,'' a declaration released Saturday by the CRPP said.
At the meeting, Suu Kyi announced she would take over as CRPP secretary and its representative for ethnic affairs, taking over from Aye Tha Aung, who was arrested and sentenced to 21 years in prison in June for violating a publication law and an emergency law.
Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle for democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, which has been ruled by its military since 1962. She was kept under house arrest from 1989-1995. Her movements have remained heavily restricted.
September 21 7:09 PM SGT
Myanmar Rebels Will Disarm
Under Proposed Suu Kyi Charter
MAE SOT, Thailand (AP)--Myanmar's main ethnic rebel army said Thursday it would lay down arms if a constitution drafted by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party came into force and enshrined minority rights.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which won the 1990 general elections but was never allowed to take power, has recently stepped up its political struggle with the ruling military junta. On Saturday, it resolved to draft a new national constitution.
"Now I believe the NLD will be drafting a constitution which will guarantee rights to all ethnic people and the entire nation," said Mahn Shar La Phan, the secretary-general of the rebel group, the Karen National Union.
If that happens, KNU will dissolve its army and operate as a political party, Mahn Shar said in Mae Sot, a town on the Thai-Myanmar border, 370 kilometers northwest of Bangkok.
"When the constitution guarantees these rights, the ethnic armies need not hold arms anymore. That includes the KNU. Then there must be only one army in the whole country, the union army," he told The Associated Press.
The KNU has been fighting for regional autonomy since Myanmar's independence in 1947. It once controlled a huge part of the country's east, but in recent years lost its last enclaves along the border with Thailand. Its forces, thought to number 2,000 to 3,000, now fight in mobile guerrilla units.
It is the only major ethnic army that has refused to sign a cease-fire with the regime. The government has brokered deals with at least 15 other armies in this sprawling nation of 48 million people.The National Coalition of the Union of Burma, a coalition of opposition and ethnic resistance groups along the Thai-Myanmar border, also backed the NLD plan Thursday.