Tense times in Burma

Internally displaced in a refugee camp outside the Myitkyina in the Kachin state where it is fighting between government forces and the KIA. Photo: Håvard Kleppa
Internally displaced in a refugee camp outside the Myitkyina in the Kachin state where it is fighting between government forces and the KIA. Photo: Håvard Kleppa

The government has signed ceasefire agreements with most ethnic minorities, but not with the Kachin-state located in northern Burma in the border areas with China and India. The population consists of six ethnic groups, and they demand a higher degree of autonomy. A 17-year old ceasefire between the central government and Kachin-state liberation movement was broken in June 2011 and since then, tens of thousands has been driven from their homes and several are killed and wounded. Fighting has increased in recent days, and the government has implemented airstrikes as a weapon. United Nations Secretary-General, the United States and China have all appealed to the government’s to stop the use of force. So far this has not been successful.

President Thein Sein has made statements suggesting that he wants a peaceful solution, but it is unclear whether his government has sufficient power over the military since their attacks have increased.

Another conflict that threatens the stability is in the Arakan province in the west of Burma. The UN has long considered the Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Thousands have been displaced from their homes. The government will not give the 800 000 Rohingyas, who are Muslims, citizenship.

The situation is delicate, but should not prevent the issue being solved.

Destabilization?

Conflicts in relation to ethnic minorities can have a destabilizing effect. For the sake of those who are suffering and to further the democratic process, it is now necessary that the situation comes under control and that there can be a peaceful solution with respect for minority rights.

The government faces major challenges. The dialogue between the government, the democracy movement and the ethnic minorities must be strengthened and provide results. Parliament must find its place in the political system. Aung Sa Suu Kyi’s party must be reorganized and develop relationships with other democratic forces.

The government should ensure functioning government institutions, legislation, infrastructure and initiatives for economic growth. At the same time the country has to facilitate for development aid and investment from abroad. All positive forces has to come together and not let internal struggle drain them of strength.

Main demands before the election in 2015

Although many positive things have happened in Burma over the past few years, it is not yet a real democracy. We hope that the elections in 2015 will form the basis for this.

But prior to the election significant changes has to be made: the Constitution, which came about through an undemocratic process, needs to be altered. The remaining political prisoners must be released.

The expectations for continued progress in Burma are big. The year we have entered can prove decisive for that the progress in Burma continues towards democracy.

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