Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Burma/Myanmar Spring: Surreal or So Real?APC R2P Brief, Vol. 1 No. 2 (2011)
Political developments in Burma/Myanmar have captured the headlines in the region for several weeks now. Most commentaries indicated a more positive—but still cautious—assessment of political reforms in that country since the first elections under the 2008 Constitution took place in November 2010. No less than democracy icon and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has confirmed that political reforms in the country have indeed made progress and moving in the right direction. In fact, her National League for Democracy (NLD) has decided to register as a party and participate in forthcoming by-elections. The NLD did not participate in last year’s elections and was outlawed under the present constitution.
The government’s heavy handed policy towards armed ethnic groups in the country remains a major concern. Military operations against the Karens, Shans, and Kachins for example have reportedly been sustained, which also targeted civilians. It is in this particular area where the government and the military have shown minimal progress to date, which is a condition for the United States to lift sanctions.8 Peace talks with several ethnic rebel groups have been going on for several weeks, which are all preliminary. Some ethnic leaders remain wary of the central government’s sincerity about the peace talks. Even so, the government has reportedly dropped an unpopular precondition for ethnic forces to join the “border guard” units of the military.
Indeed, the government should seriously consider initiating a ceasefire agreement with armed ethnic groups in order to create an atmosphere that is conducive for meaningful peace negotiations. ASEAN and the rest of the international community should help facilitate peace efforts in the country and provide assistance in peace building between the government and ethnic groups in the country. The wealth of experience from the Cyclone Nargis disaster in 2008 could be an important springboard for ASEAN and the UN to assist the central government in this regard. It should be recalled that it was ASEAN through its backdoor diplomacy that persuaded the military junta to allow international humanitarian assistance into the country. Initially, the junta refused said assistance from Western countries like the US and France, especially after the latter wrongly invoked R2P to intervene in the in Burma/Myanmar after the humanitarian crisis brought about by Cyclone Nargis.
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