The Myanmar Times
Wednesday, 03 September 2014
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Hopes for peace in Myanmar

A Kayin man from northeast Bago Region holds a newly issued identity document, which allows him to travel legally around the country in May 2012. (Nan Tin Htwe / The Myanmar Times)A Kayin man from northeast Bago Region holds a newly issued identity document, which allows him to travel legally around the country in May 2012. (Nan Tin Htwe / The Myanmar Times)

The past year has been one of extraordinary changes in Myanmar.

The government has implemented a series of reforms, including the release of most political prisoners and relaxations on censorship and freedom of association.

Perhaps most significant has been the rapprochement between President U Thein Sein and reformist ministers, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Also hugely important has been a series of ceasefires agreed between the government and various non-state armed groups, some of which have been fighting for autonomy for more than half a century.

Of course, many problems remain, including the urgent need for economic reform. Furthermore, horrific recent violence in western Rakhine State indicates how badly things can go wrong if ethnic and political differences are not managed carefully.

Nevertheless, the reform process represents the best opportunity in decades to resolve armed ethnic conflicts which have plagued the country since independence.

Dozens of non-state armed groups – representing minorities that constitute more than 30 percent of the population – have been fighting for autonomy from the militarised state, and self-determination for their communities.

Although some insurgent leaders have private economic motivations, many of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups do enjoy strong support from those they seek to represent.

These war-ravaged minority communities express strong desires for peace – challenging government and ethnic minority elites to respond creatively.