2011: The Year We've Been Waiting For?
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Saturday, January 25, 2020
Opinion
COMMENTARY

2011: The Year We've Been Waiting For?


By KYAW ZWA MOE Friday, December 30, 2011


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Although Burma's notorious censors have not completely lifted restrictions on what can be reported, journalists say they now have greater freedom than they've had at any time in recent decades. 

No longer silenced by draconian controls over the flow of information, and encouraged by comments coming from high-ranking officials—including Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint's acknowledgment of an electoral victory by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990—the NLD decided in November to participate in by-elections expected to take place early in 2012. This was seen as a dramatic reversal of its boycott of the 2010 election, and signaled to the outside world that Burma's opposing forces were moving closer to a detente. 

Soon after the NLD declared its intention to re-register as a political party, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) announced that it had decided to allow Burma to assume the chairmanship of the regional grouping in 2012. At the same time, US President Barack Obama, after consulting with Suu Kyi by telephone while attending an Asean summit in Bali, told reporters that he would be sending US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Burma by the end of the month.

Clinton's visit, the first by a US secretary of state in more than 50 years, was followed several weeks later by one by Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba; and in January, the UK's foreign secretary, William Hague, is expected to make a visit. This is a remarkable turnaround for a country that has long been shunned by the world's richest and most powerful democracies.

But this does not mean that Burma is ready to reclaim its rightful place in the global community just yet. Western sanctions remain in place, and won't be removed until Burma's baby steps toward democracy begin to look more like strides. In the meantime, however, would-be investors are taking a closer look at the country's potential and countries that have long cultivated commercial ties with Burma's generals, such as Thailand, are becoming increasingly confident that their patience will soon start to pay off in a big way.

One of the first hurdles to ending sanctions is the fact that Burma still holds hundreds of political prisoners in detention, even after the release of a few dozen in May and around 200 more in October. Progress in addressing the country's ethnic conflicts—and an immediate end to the Burmese army's targeting of civilians in combat zones—is also key to Burma's efforts to come in from the cold.

Government minister Aung Thaung, who leads the “peace committee” tasked with negotiating an end to Burma's many ethnic conflicts, has said that it could take up to three years to reach peace agreements with all of the armed groups in the country. Hopefully, however, the government intends to go beyond bringing ethnic armies “into the legal fold” with ceasefire agreements that offer no long-term promise of peace and stability, as the current situation in Kachin State amply illustrates.

And we must also hope that other moves by the new government, such as proposed economic reforms and the introduction of laws that legalize trade unions and guarantee the right to peaceful protest, will prove to have a lasting impact on Burma's future. After decades as one of the world's poorest and most conflict-ridden countries, the pieces are finally in place for Burma to make real progress in the years ahead—provided those in control have the political will to carry through what they've started.

This article will appear in the print edition of  The Irrawaddy, Vol. 19, No. 4.



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COMMENTS (5)
 
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Datherine Wrote:
07/01/2012
A few years ago I'd have to pay someone for this information.

Aung Tin Wrote:
02/01/2012
It is disgusting to see Kyaw Zwa Moe used "Suu Kyi" the same word denigrated by SLORC and so.

Bill Gov Wrote:
01/01/2012
It's time to forward the official time in Burma to be the same as China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines if Burma truely wants to reform and be in time with the rest of the countries in the region.

Moe Aung Wrote:
31/12/2011
We have an expression for this: Meesa ta hpet, yay hmote ta hpet (torch in one hand, fire bucket in the other).

A trade off between ASSK/Zarganar and Min Ko Naing/Ashin Gambira, between Myitsone dam and Shwe Gas.

Smart? Or too clever by half?

peter shwe Wrote:
31/12/2011
My opinion and comment to this article is that we all need to work together to help the country's betterment. We also need to allocate role and responsibility of individual party such as political party. the military and the public. We need to fill all gaps by allocating tasks individually. The political party in power will do their best to establish the constitutions in favour of the citizens of Myanmar. The opposition party will do their best to point out the weakness in the areas that may be missing so that the public would not suffer a lot. The military has their role and responsibility to safeguard the country, to participate in volunteering project, to contribute the public needs and public desire as such. I do not feel that politic and the military is entirely different tasks. In my opinion, the military only follows the politicians instructions. The politicians do not follow the army in terms of the country's betterment. I feel that it is fair opinion that I can think of.

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