It did not address critics' claims that the constitutional process is flawed because it is manipulated by the military for its own benefit.

 

State media said a 45-member Referendum Convening Commission - made up mostly of representatives of the country's ethnic minorities, as well as at least two legal experts - had been set up to oversee the vote.

 

Calls for reforms

 

Calls for reform have grown after the violent 
crackdown on protests last year [EPA]
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under international pressure to introduce concrete after the military violently crushed peaceful mass protests last September.

 

The UN estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained in the crackdown.

 

The ruling generals' plans have been widely criticised for failing to include any input from opponents of military rule, especially the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

 

The detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate's party won a 1990 general election, but the military refused to let it take power.

 

The government made public its plan for the referendum this month but did not release an exact date for the vote or the text of the draft constitution, which a committee hand-picked by the military reportedly completed on February 19.

 

But Aung Toe, Myanmar's chief justice and chairman of the Constitution Drafting Commission, said at the time that the draft was drawn up with the objective of ensuring the military maintain a leading role in politics.

 

The referendum is to be followed by nationwide elections scheduled for some time in 2010.

 

The NLD said last week that the generals' unilateral announcement of a constitutional referendum and general elections was undemocratic and could hurt national stability.

 

It stopped short, however, of advocating a boycott or a "no" vote for the draft constitution.

 

Myanmar has not had a constitution since 1988, when the current military government took power after crushing mass pro-democracy demonstrations.

 

Suu Kyi banned

 

Guidelines used to draft the new charter bar Aung San Suu Kyi from national office because she was married to a foreigner and enjoyed the privileges of a foreign national.

 

Her late husband, Michael Aris, was British.

 

The bar was widely criticise, including by Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) of which Myanmar is itself a member.

 

On Monday the US extended its sanctions against what it called "financial operatives" of Myanmar's military government.

 

"The situation in Burma remains deplorable," George Bush, the US president, said.

 

"The regime has rejected calls from its own people and the international community to begin a genuine dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minority groups."

 

Referring to the sanctions, Bush said "concerted international pressure is needed to achieve a genuine transition to democracy in Burma".