- (Photo: The Christian Post/Anugrah Kumar)
The “flickers of hope” previously lauded by U.S. officials appear to be translating into concrete changes for the once closed-off Burma.
Burmese officials called for an end to military offensives against rebels in Kachin State, the predominantly Christian area in the north of the country.
The move came after months of fighting that resulted in tens of thousands of refugees and countless incidents of religious persecution.
Christians have been forbidden to build new churches, had religious symbols – such as crosses – removed by the military and food and homes confiscated by officials, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Recently the country’s military has attacked churches, beating parishioners and arresting religious leaders. In October, the government began requiring residents in Kachin State to submit a written request at least 15 days in advance prior to reading the Bible or praying.
It is unclear if the attacks targeting Christians in the northern state will subside now that President Thein Sein has ordered Burmese troops to cease firing on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
The move could signal a halt in the fighting that erupted in June after a ceasefire agreement was broken.
In a recent trip to the country, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Burma to end its ethnic and religious conflicts before the U.S. would move forward with fostering a stronger relationship with the country.
The recent moves in Kachin State coincide with similar moves in Shan State and other ethnic and religious minority provinces in Burma.
In a similar move, the Burmese government announced that Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) will be allowed to rejoin the mainstream politics in the country.
NLD had its recognition as a political party stripped after it boycotted last years elections, citing unfair election rules. NLD has since reapplied.
Suu Kyi has said she will take part in the upcoming elections, although no date has been set. She has spent much of the last 20 years on house arrest, but has remained a vocal supporter of democratic movements in the country.
The country held elections in 2010, the first in two decades, although critics, including Suu Kyi, said they were merely for show and ushered in no real change from the previous military junta rule.
It is unclear what significance these recent steps will have in improving Burma's position on the world stage.