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

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

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road