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Organizer and Chair: Maureen Aung-Thwin, Soros Foundation
Discussants: F. K. Lehman, University of Illinois; Naw May Oo, Karen Student Network Group; Mya Maung, Boston College; Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, University of British Columbia; Pon Nya, Monland Restoration Council; Vum Son, Engineer
January 1999 marks the fifth anniversary of the Karen ethnic rebellion, which still persists today though in a much diminished form. The challenge to make Burma into a fair and equitable society for all of its citizens remains the biggest obstacle to genuine national reconciliation.
Burmas social, economic, and political crisis will not be resolved in the long run without the active and informed participation of its diverse peoples. Absent consent of the ruled, especially non-Burmans, any government in Burma will likely face insurmountable difficulties in marshaling the popular support and financial resources required to address the countrys enormous problems.
There is no doubt that a competent and honest administration accountable to Burmas populace could more productively and rationally develop the countrys immense natural and human resources. A more open society with genuine elections is not the only requisite. The political impasse that has led to a half century of insurgency along Burmas borderlands must also be addressed as a threshold to lasting progress. Even a democratically-elected government in Burma will need to seek a broad consensus among ethnic minority peoples to realize the peace that is a requisite for sustainable democratic development.
The ceasefires that are in force today in much of the former battlegrounds are fragile, for the major issue that fueled Burmas civil wars remains basically unresolved: how to share the political, economic, and cultural "pie" of Burma?