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Hope for Burma?

3:44 PM, Aug 19, 2011 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi held her first ever meeting with the top civilian official in the Burmese regime, President Thein Sein, in the isolated capital of Naypyidaw. There had earlier been rumors that Ms. Suu Kyi would be going to Naypyidaw to attend a government sponsored workshop on economic development and poverty alleviation, but instead she apparently held a one hour meeting with Thein Sein, then reportedly paid a social call to his wife and granddaughter. While there have been no details about what was discussed, sources in Burma indicate that the government was reaching out to Ms. Suu Kyi in order to get her assistance with its efforts to engage with Burma's fractious ethnic groups—several of which have been engaged in armed conflict with the central government for decades.

Hope for Burma?

Together with recent indications that the government may be moving toward exchange rate rationalization and other moves designed to improve the country's dire macroeconomic situation, as well as recent government statements welcoming exiles to ‘return home,’ these moves toward political reconciliation are raising hopes that something may have really changed within the regime's political calculus. But even as these positive events were unfolding, there were fresh reports of attacks on civilians in the conflict-ridden ethnic areas—including reports of children being used as human shields in the Shan state. 

Observers should remain wary, given how past feints toward reform and rounds of talks with Suu Kyi have never turned into much, or worse, led to renewed repression. A dialogue with the head of state has been on Ms. Suu Kyi's list of demands for decades, as has genuine national reconciliation with the ethnic nationalities. If the government accompanies its latest openings to Ms. Suu Kyi with a significant release of political prisoners—a clear and visible benchmark that is the immediate priority on the democracy movement's agenda—then these latest steps can start to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, everything they have done up to now amounts to not much more than talk. Granted, it is the kind of talk the world has wanted to hear. But in order for it to mean anything, it must be followed by concrete, irreversible actions.

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