Thursday, December 27, 2012

TOP 10 Events of 2012—No 5

Thursday, 27 December 2012 12:41 Mizzima News

Mizzima’s sister publication, M-ZINE+, has selected what its editors have decided are the 10 biggest events or issues in Burma over the past 12 months.

We began the countdown on December 22 at No. 10, and will recall one issue each day until we finish on December 31 with the most momentous event of the year.

No rest for the little elves at, we will be working all the way through Xmas and New Year, bringing you the latest and most accurate news from Burma.

5. The expansion of ethnic ceasefires

Burmese government peace delegation leader Minister Aung Min shakes hands with KNU Commander-in- Chief Gen. Mutu Say Poe after signing a ceasefire agreement in Pa-an, Karen State, on January 12, 2012. (Photo: Mizzima)

All too often, the struggle for democracy in Burma has been depicted in Western media as a morality play, pitting a strong-willed, intelligent yet kindly woman facing off against a stubborn, officer corps with a dully obscurantist and medieval mindset.

The political turmoil in Burma, or Myanmar, during the military-run era was never that simplistic, but perhaps the most egregious error with that picture was that it ignored the multiplicity of ethnic conflicts that have bedeviled the country since its independence and struck at a core question—what is to be the nature of the state?

Succeeding governments have determined there must be a centrally controlled unitary state, dismissing a key ethnic demand for federalism as a threat or worse.

Over the years, government tactics to realize and reinforce this goal have ranged from co-optation, divide and rule, setting up proxy militias, to engaging in devastating military campaigns.

Many previous ceasefires, such as those between 1988 and 1993, seemed to be not quite attempts at national reconciliation, even though they mitigated armed conflict, but more tactical maneuvers. Any autonomy granted the minorities would in the future, and from a position of strength, be revoked.

This year the government, without conceding for now how it defines the state, did reach out to the minorities with much more sincerity—with the peripatetic ex-Railways Minister Aung Min taking the lead in holding serious discussions and making preliminary agreements with organizations such as the Karen National Union.

Many of the ethnic armed or political groups, racked by factionalism, an inability to make real common cause across ethnic boundaries despite a multiplicity of umbrella organizations set up for the purpose, and many other woes, reciprocated—if warily in some cases. Though tough issues—notably whether federalism is to be on the table—lie ahead, for the first time in decades there is a real possibility of peace.

Just how fragile this process currently is, cannot be stressed enough. In northern Burma, a re-ignited and bloody conflict still rages between the Kachin Independence Army and government forces. Thus in 2012, concerned observers had a chance to witness both the road forward and the one running away in the opposite direction.
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M-ZINE+ is a business weekly available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at

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