Slow emergence: The new Myanmar has a few problems to overcome

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The release of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and the general easing of repression by the nation's ruling generals may have given a false impression that all would be well in that country.

When international forces, including the media, focus on a particular issue or person in a country, there is a tendency to see the resolution of that problem as the dawn of a new day. The return to public life of Ms. Suu Kyi in 2011 was a big step in the evolution of a more modern Myanmar, the former Burma. On the other hand, it is clear from events since her reemergence that some of the old problems that plagued the country of 48 million are not only still there, but will be firmly on her plate if she begins to play a larger role in Myanmar's governance.

One of these is the relationship between the military and civilian leaders. Much was made of her attendance at a recent military parade, seated in the front row among the generals. Two historical facts had been forgotten. One is that her father, Aung San, was a military officer who had founded the Burmese armed forces. The second is that her father, when he was assassinated in 1947, was a Communist and the West initially welcomed the military's taking control.

A second problem that has reemerged with a vengeance is the animosity that Myanmar's majority Buddhists sometimes show to its minority Muslims, the Rohingyas. That conflict has resurfaced in the form of recent violence waged by Buddhists against Rohingyas, killing 40 and forcing thousands to flee, turning them into a problem for relief organizations. Ethnic Burmese Buddhists incorrectly consider the Rohingyas to be immigrants, unwelcome in a country where employment is tight.

A third problem that hangs over the head of whoever rules Myanmar are other ethnic minorities, including Kachins, Karens and Shans as well as Han Chinese. Myanmar has borders with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand. Some groups have been in rebellion against the central government for many years, even before the time of Ms. Suu Kyi's father.

The United States has shown eagerness to welcome an ostensibly reformed Myanmar back into the family of nations, particularly with Ms. Suu Kyi playing a prominent role. To a degree the administration of President Barack Obama has shown a tendency to hang the change in Myanmar as a trophy on the wall, evidence of the success of its first-term foreign policy with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the lead.

Close observers of the evolving situation in Myanmar, based on recent developments and historical realities, would suggest caution in counting U.S. policy there as anything other than a partial success so far.



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