Last Thursday, the government of Myanmar and ethnic Karen rebels signed a cease-fire agreement, effectively ending their 60-year conflict. However, many members of the international community remain skeptical as just two months ago, Human Rights Watch reported,

Fighting in Karen State flared on election day on November 7, 2010. Conflict between government forces and ethnic Karen insurgents has displaced more than 10,000 civilians . . . All parties to the conflict make widespread use of anti-personnel landmines. Abuses by the Burmese army in Karen State since November 2010 include forced labor, targeting of civilians, attacks on livelihoods, and the longstanding practice of using convict porters . . . prisoners were used as “human shields” to trigger landmines, draw fire during ambushes, or protect soldiers. Injured porters were left to die, and many were summarily executed for failing to carry heavy loads of munitions and supplies. Many of these abuses are war crimes under international humanitarian law.

Because of these grave violations, and given the fact that this is the sixth such cease-fire agreement to be signed between these two groups, Karen Communities Worldwide is calling on the government to engage in dialogue beyond the cease-fire in order to solve the conflict’s underlying political problems. Specifically, they are requesting:

  • A nationwide cease-fire
  • Dialogue for a political solution that guarantees ethnic rights and culture.
  • Stop military actions in ethnic areas
  • Stop human rights violations
  • Free all political prisoners, including ethnic leader Mahn Nyein Maung
The government says it is negotiating peace pacts with the other major ethnic rebel groups — the Chin, the Mon, the Kachin and the Kayah — with a goal of achieving a lasting  peace with them in the next three to four years. Professor Kanbawza Win posits that these various ethnic groups are fighting for their individual rights while simultaneously being unified in their struggle for national democracy. A major hurdle in fulfilling this ambition is the issue of political prisoners; though 130 were released on Friday, according to Amnesty International and as indicated above, “more than a thousand political prisoners may remain behind bars, many of whom are prisoners of conscience.”