Where is Myanmar's plan for peace?

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The Nation

As ethnic and religious conflicts continue, activists and ordinary people ask what the government is doing to bring reconciliation to the country as part of its much-publicised reform programme

A march on International Day for Peace in Yangon over the weekend was a good sign that positive changes in Myanmar are continuing, but it won't be enough to bring genuine peace and reconciliation to the country, where many layers of conflict remain unresolved.

Hundreds of people joined the rally on Saturday in the country's former capital, calling for an end to conflict between armed ethnic groups and government forces, and between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine State. At the same time they praised the government for allowing the march to take place.

Street demonstrations are rare in Myanmar, where civil rights are still restricted, even though the government has implemented reforms over the past two years. In September last year, more people defied the authorities to march in Yangon, urging an end to the conflict between Kachin rebels and government troops. Dozens of activists were charged in connection with the demonstration.

Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on the day of the rally, at a business conference in Singapore, that Myanmar still suffers from various conflicts. Although the authorities have reached peace agreements with some of the ethnic minorities who took up arms, the country has not yet really achieved a full and permanent peace.

In addition to the wars with the armed rebels, there has also been a wave of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims. The conflict erupted last year in western Rakhine State, initially between local Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. It later developed into a sectarian conflict between Buddhists and Muslims of all descriptions. The violence has left more than 250 people dead so far and displaced more than 140,000.

The situation has calmed, but there is no guarantee the violence will not happen again, sparked by some local dispute or allegation.

The United Nations' Integrated Regional Information Networks reported last Friday that more than 12,000 people remain affected by this sectarian conflict, and 3,951 people are still displaced six months after a state of emergency was declared in the town of Meiktila, where clashes between Buddhists and Muslims erupted in March.

Suu Kyi has called for the rule of law to prevail and to ensure the safety of people before getting opposing sides to sit down together to exchange views on their differences. Another voice of reason is that of senior monk Sandar Siri, who led Myanmar's "Saffron Revolution" in 2007, and who appealed last week for an end to religious violence in the nation as activists marked the sixth anniversary of the failed uprising.

The bad news is that there has been no response from extremist Buddhist groups that have fanned the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment over the past few months. Worse, the authorities, who claim to be championing reform in the country, have not yet come up with a systematic plan to restore order and peace and bring reconciliation to Myanmar's long-suffering ordinary people.

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