Jan 12, 2012: End of the World’s Longest Running Civil War

12 Jan

On Jan 12, 2012, the Karen National Union and the Burmese government signed a ceasefire agreement ending a civil war that began on Jan 31, 1949. By no means an assurance of continued peace, the agreement remains a significant symbol of the current opportunities for stability in Burma.

The Karen-Burmese War has left thousands dead, and hundreds of thousands displaced. All sides in the conflict are guilty of war crimes that include the use of child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war, forced labor, laying landmines and using civilians as human landmine detectors. Though, crimes against civilians were less common among the Karen forces.

Its also important to note that the devastation of the war goes beyond the crimes committed by opposing armies. The length of the conflict was a destructive force in and of itself. 63 years of instability and violence. 63 years of stunted economic, social, and political development. The war has become generational event, with grandchildren waiting for the day when they can join their grandfathers on the front-lines. For the Karen the war was an assumption of daily life.

I am not optimistic that the ceasefire will mark the real end of violence. As Karen leader Brig Gen Johnny said this morning, “We have been fighting for 60 years and one meeting alone will not end it.” For one thing, the Burmese government has a history, running up to the present day, of going back on its word. Just last month Burmese President Thein Sein ordered the Burmese army to cease its offensive operations in Burma’s Eastern Kachin State. Today fighting in Kachin State rages on, despite the govt’s order. Additionally, the government remains entirely in the hands of the military, despite their new civilian clothes and fancy parliament. However, even if the government is earnest in its rhetoric of peace, it is still hard to be optimistic that a three hour meeting, some signatures, and a few beers among generals can mend a 63 year division.

In the coming days I plan to write more about the specifics of the agreement and to post material on the history of the Karen-Burmese war.

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