Peter Popham: Remarkable events that give hope for change after so long

 

Share
Related Topics

There can no longer be any doubt that there is a group of people at the summit of power in Burma who are not merely toying with Aung San Suu Kyi and the West, not merely climbing through Washington-erected hoops in order to achieve short-term political and economic goals, but who have a vision of how their country should be run and where it should be heading that is radically at odds with the vision that has dictated policy for the past 20 years.

This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the breathtaking events of the past two days. The year began with disappointment when only a handful of political prisoners was released in the traditional holiday amnesty.

But that returning sense of suspicion and doubt was blown away by two major breakthroughs: the signing of a formal ceasefire with the Karen National Union, after more than 60 years of brutal and horrifying civil war; and the claimed release – the details have yet to be spelled out – of all the remaining 500-plus political prisoners.

It is hard to say which of these two developments is the more stunning. When I first visited Burma in 1991 I was taken by activists of the Karen minority across the Thai border to Manerplaw, a camp in the jungle on Burma's eastern border. The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma had set up its base there after the refusal of the military junta to recognise the results of 1990's election, in which Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. They were made welcome by the Karen National Union and its army, which at that point had already been fighting the Burmese military for 40 years.

This, in other words, is a conflict with the deepest of roots. During the Second World War the predominantly Christian Karen had remained loyal to the British while the Buddhist Burmese sided with the invading Japanese. "How could anyone expect the Karen to trust the Burmans after what happened in the war?" one Karen leader remarked in 1985. Yet this week a senior Karen soldier commented: "This time they didn't ask us to give up our arms. They just want to work for equal rights for ethnic groups. This time we trust them." It is a historic moment.

No less important is the release of the men and women who must haunt the nightmares of the former strongman Than Shwe, many of them at the sharp end of civil protests from 1988 to 2007.

What on earth, one wonders, can President Thein Sein do for an encore?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Here is what I learned after creating the Caitlyn Jenner bot @she_not_he

Caitlin Dewey
 

Daily catch-up: the Labour leadership election hasn’t yet got to grips with why the party lost

John Rentoul
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific