Myanmar: too soon to cheer?
posted at 1/14/2012 9:50 AM EST
The Globe briefly displayed an article about restoring relations with Myanmar, following the recent visit by Sec. of State Clinton. The official U.S. story is that the event honors a so-called "cease-fire" agreement between the fledgling government of U Thein Sein and the Karen National Union (KNU). Too soon to cheer? [ Matthew Pennington, U.S. to restore diplomatic ties with Myanmar, January 13, 2012, at http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2012/01/13/us_to_restore_full_diplomatic_ties_with_myanmar/?page=full ]
Those renditions are all most readers of U.S. news media are likely to see. They probably will not know that Karen tribes have long been in conflict with one another or see that KNU vice-chairman Saw David Thrac Kabaw denied that any agreement had been signed. [ KNU leader denies ceasefire agreement is signed, Karen News (Myanmar), January 12, 2012, at http://karennews.org/2012/01/knu-leader-denies-ceasefire-agreement-is-signed.html/ ]
Besides the Karen tribes, numbering about 3.5 million, Myanmar has numerous other peoples speaking different languages, maintaining cultural identities and struggling for over 50 years to achieve autonomy or reassert the independence they once enjoyed. Largest are the Shan, Mon, Kachin, Karenni, Kayan, Rakhine, Chin, Danu, Akha, Lahu, Naga, Palaung, Pao, Rohyinga, Tavoyan, Wa and Kokang. There at least 100 groups, and together they make up about one-third of the population.
Peoples of Myanmar may be trying to read tea leaves with the comment attributed to Sec. Clinton by the NY Times, "This is a momentous day for the diverse people of Burma." Speaking of "Burma" rather than "Myanmar," particularly when referring to "diverse people" of the country--that is to say, those who are not ethnic Burmese--is sure to leave observers there puzzled. [ Steven Lee Myers and Seth Mydans, U.S. restores Ties with Myanmar after reforms, New York Times, January 14, 2012, at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/14/world/asia/united-states-resumes-diplomatic-relations-with-myanmar.html ]
Some Karen tribes clustered in the Irawaddy River delta are intermingled with ethnic Burmese. They are more visible to the Burmese populations and to foreign visitors than other tribes who live along the borders with India and China to the north. The Kachin living in the far north, numbering about 1.5 million, are not being favored with "cease-fire" agreements.
Last summer, attacks on the Kachin population by units of Myanmar's military caused tens of thousands to flee into Tibet. Either the government of U Thein Sein is two-faced in its approach to minority peoples, or it does not have control of the military. [ Alan Raybould and Jonathan Thatcher, Humanitarian crisis brewing in Myanmar's Kachin group, Reuters (India), December 9, 2011, at http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/12/09/myanmar-kachin-fighting-idINDEE7B80CF20111209 ]