Amber lights for the oppressed peoples in Burma

Authorities in Naypyidaw, in apparent transition towards a civil government, kick-start a process aimed at reaching peace with rebel groups from minorities · Peace talks have taken place and, in some cases, the government has signed agreements with representatives of the Karen, Kachin, Mon and Shan groups · How non-Burmese groups fit in the state will be the topic of a 'great national conference' soon, the government promises.

Neither red nor green: amber lights is the most representative picture for the diverse peoples laying within Burma -or Myanmar, as it has been named by the generals which have governed the country during the last decades. A number of groups have historically been denied their existence, with every attempt to claim their rights leading to repression, torture, rape and killings. State violence has forced thousands into exile, and has triggered uprisings -some of which armed- within the approximately 135 different peoples, both small and large, which make up between 35% and 40% of the Burmese population (52 million).

However, tension is now slightly and slowly loosening as president Thein Sein, a former general, has ordered the army to stop shootings against non-Burmese communities across the country, unless being attacked by 'rebels'. Additionally, the government -in charge since March 2011 after a 'semi-free' election- has agreed to establish peace talks with dissident peoples, especially with those in the borders with Thailand, China, Bangladesh, India and Laos. Among these, the Karen, the Kachin, the Mon and the Shan are especially important in terms of population and economic weight.

On the other hand, Minister of Immigration Khin Yee has announced that if talks with so-called 'ethnic minorities' work out, a 'great national conference' will be called in order to find solutions to the communities' most pressing problems. Nevertheless, this doesn't seem an easy task: the truce between government and Shan rebel groups, as well as the peace process involving the Karen and the Kachin, have all proved to be still on shaky ground.

In such a context, it is especially remarkable the stance taken by the most renowned critic of the regime, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed in 2010 after 15 years of house arrest. She advocates open-mindedness and generosity in order to create a climate of trust for the dialogue and negotiations between the government and the non-Burmese peoples. These are significant words, for San Suu Kyi may think that Burmese political leaders are late: the liberation movements of some peoples are confident of their strength and may not be willing to cede unless they are assured that the government will take steps towards establishing a real federal country -today's Burma is de facto a centralised state-, or even open the door to recognition of the right of self-determination which some groups have historically claimed.

(Picture: Burmese president Thein Sein / Image: Government of Thailand)