Burma. According to Countryaah, the government’s attempt to end the decades-long armed conflicts with ethnic groups’ rebel movements in the north and northeast continued. At the beginning of the year, there were various kinds of agreements with all major rebel groups, but the agreement with the guerrilla Kachin Independence Army (KIA) political organization KIO was broken already in January when the army attacked a Kachin-controlled area around the city of Laiza near the Chinese border. The government first stated that the army had acted without the knowledge of the political leadership, but later explained that the military used aircraft and helicopters to stop guerrilla operations.
New talks between the KIO and the government began in May, and in October the parties were able to agree, among other things, to partially withdraw their soldiers from certain areas and on the ceasefire. The KIA and KIO’s quest for an independent state for the minority people kachin was not discussed. In July, one of the country’s largest guerrilla groups, the Wastaten United Army (UWSA) in Shan State in the north, entered into an agreement with the government on certain troop retreats and continued peace talks.
In January, the 25-year-old ban on people gathering with more than five people in public places was abolished.
In March, serious violence erupted between Muslims and Buddhists in Meiktila south of Mandalay in central Burma. Dozens of people were killed in connection with the unrest that would have originated in a riot inside a store, after which Buddhist mobs attacked the Muslim minority in the city. Several mosques were burned down. The violence then spread to a number of other places in the central parts of the country. Mosques, Muslim homes and shops were burnt down.
By the end of the month, dozens of people (mainly Muslims) had been killed and nearly 13,000 people (a clear majority of Muslims) felt compelled to flee their homes. According to the police, those who were arrested mainly Buddhists and suspects were among some believers that the wave of violence was organized by a Muslim hostile group within the influential Buddhist monk community in the area. However, other judges considered the violence to spread spontaneously, possibly with the influence of ethnic violence between Muslims and Buddhists in the western state of Rakhine, where human rights organizations warned that ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority Rohingya was ongoing. When emergency states were introduced in central Burma, the situation became calmer.
President Thein Sein visited Europe for the first time in February. He met with a number of leaders for the EU and individual countries in order to strengthen Burma’s relations with the West.
In the same month, Democratic campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi was formally elected chairman of his party NLD (National Democratic Alliance), which in Rangoon held its first congress ever. As a result of the abolition of the state monopoly for newspaper publishing in August 2012, four privately owned daily newspapers were published in April – the first independent privately owned daily newspapers in the country in almost half a century.
In the same month, the EU lifted all sanctions against Burma and individual Burmese leaders, with the exception of the arms embargo. The United States chose to retain some sanctions in view of the violence against Muslims. According to a government-appointed investigation, 190 people were killed in the violence in the west in the summer of 2012 and around 100,000 became homeless. The investigation recommended that the security forces on site be doubled, but the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the security forces were suspected of participating in the violence.
When President Thein Sein visited the United States in May, Barack Obama praised the Burmese government for political and economic reforms in recent years, but the US president criticized the violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the western state of Rakhine. It was the first official US visit by a Burmese head of state since 1966. While the US visit was underway, six Muslims were sentenced for the outbreak of violence in Meiktila in March. No Buddhist was found guilty. In Rakhine, a law was passed which says that Rohingyas are only allowed to have a maximum of two children. No Buddhist restriction was imposed on Buddhists.
Violence between Muslims and Buddhists also erupted in Shan State in the Northeast. A month later, a Muslim man was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the murder of a Buddhist woman in Shan State. This time, too, no Buddhist was convicted of participating in the violence. In July, 23 people were sentenced to prison for participating in the violence wave in Meiktila. The following month, new violence broke out between the two groups after police refused to hand over a Muslim, suspected of raping a Buddhist woman, to a crowd. Violence of similar kind continued during the fall.
On a visit to Britain in July, President Thein Sein promised that all political prisoners would be released before the end of 2013. Earlier in the year, the government had appointed a commission to investigate the situation of the remaining political prisoners in order to release them.