Burma Peace Just Months Away? Experts Say Not So Fast

Peace in conflict-ridden Burma is attainable within months, according to the country's top peace negotiator. However, experts warn that despite reforms, Burma remains a country embroiled in decades' worth of conflict that continues to be home to countless human rights violations against its population.

In an exclusive interview on Wednesday, lead peace negotiator Aung Min told Reuters news agency that Burma is on the verge of completing negotiations with dissident groups that the country's military-run government has been fighting for years.

Ceasefire agreements have been reached with nine out of 16 groups and the remaining ceasefire agreements could be negotiated within months, according to Aung Min.

"Things have changed in our country and this situation has now changed, this has allowed us to find the remedy," he said.

The positive assessment for the future of Burmese peace follows recent cease-fire negotiations between government forces and the eastern Karen National Union -- a group composed largely of Christians.

Despite the peaceful negotiations, reports of shelling and clashes trailed the agreement and experts have expressed concerns that President Thein Sein seems to have little control over his army, an alarming concern that could shadow negotiations between rebel groups and the government.

Furthermore, intense fighting between the Burmese army and Christians in the northern Kachin state has not subsided despite government rhetoric calling for peace.

After six decades of fighting, mass displacement, and egregious human rights violations, distrust of the government is rife among Burma's ethnic minorities and many are dually suspicious and wary of the government's motives for reform.

Experts in the field of human rights also remain cautious and maintain that reforms instated by Thein Sein's government -- although a signal that Burma is moving toward progressive change -- have yet to materialize into transformations for the country's religious and ethnic minorities.

The Human Rights Watch World Report 2012 published last month maintains that the Burmese army continued to rape, torture, and launch indiscriminate attacks against civilians in conflict zones in 2011.

"Burma's human rights situation remained dire in 2011 despite some significant moves by the government," the report reads.

"The Burmese military continues to violate international humanitarian law through the use of anti-personnel landmines, extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, beatings, and pillaging of property," it added.

In September, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Tomas Ojea Quintana said in a United Nations General Assembly report that the situation in Burma remains a cause for concern.

"Many serious human rights issues encompassing the broad range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights remain and they need to be addressed," Quintana said.

With decades of bad news emanating out of the explosive country, the international community has been quick to embrace hope for change in Burma by reinstating diplomatic relations and investing in the country. Even U.S. President Barack Obama sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on a historic diplomatic mission to the country. Prior to Clinton's November visit, it had been 60 years since a high ranking U.S. official set foot on Burmese soil.

However, many advocates believe the quick embrace of newfound Burma is cause for concern.

Ryan Morgan, an advocacy officer and Burma expert at International Christian Concern (ICC) said the Washington, D.C.-based ICC is concerned that the international community might be too quick to accept an uncertain peace in Myanmar.

"We want the West and the United States to be cautious," Morgan told The Christian Post. "The fact is fighting is still going on in many parts of Burma, not just for the Karin but for the Kachin in the north.

"There have been indications of change, we've seen prisoners released, it looks like there will be a bit of openness in the political system, but in terms of the military and the fighting that's still going on we haven't see serious changes."

According to the ICC, Christians in the country have faced state-sponsored rape, raids, pillaging and other grave rights violations in the government's fight to maintain its reign on power. Morgan believes these deep-seeded abuses are not likely to vanish overnight.

"We're hopeful these changes are going to be permanent and that they're going to last but at the same time it's difficult to not be somewhat suspicious and wonder if they're not just statements to get the international pressure on Burma alleviated," Morgan added. "It's all coming very very fast, we're talking about a conflict that's being going on for 60 years. I think we need to see concrete changes and see the situation with the Karen and Kachin actually change before more steps are taken."

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