from 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2013 | Foreign Policy
by Louise Arbour
Myanmar’s leaders continue to fulfill their pledges on reform, moving the country decisively away from its authoritarian past. Political prisoners have been released, blacklists trimmed, freedom of assembly laws implemented, and media censorship abolished. President Thein Sein has built a partnership with the opposition, especially the National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was voted into parliament this year.
But the road to democracy is proving hard. Widespread intercommunal violence in Rakhine state, targeting principally the Rohingya Muslim minority, has cast a dark cloud over the reform process. Such tensions often arise as more freedom allows buried conflicts to resurface — even so, the continued risk of communal violence in Rakhine is very alarming and will need a concerted, unambiguous response from the government and Aung San Suu Kyi to make clear it has no future in the new Myanmar. The inability to sign a ceasefire in Kachin State, another festering ethnic conflict, also risks undermining the president’s new peace initiative with ethnic armed groups.
The West has moved quickly to begin dismantling sanctions on Myanmar and end its diplomatic isolation. President Barack Obama’s visit in early November showed the strength of U.S. support for the reforms. But Myanmar isn’t out of the woods yet: Both the government and the opposition need to show moral leadership to achieve a lasting solution to lingering ethnic-based conflicts, which threaten their country’s reform process and stability.