When Myanmar announced a cease-fire last month with one of the country’s most prominent rebel groups, images of longstanding enemies shaking hands across a table were beamed around the globe and touted as evidence of further reconciliation in a country emerging from decades of military dictatorship and interethnic strife.
Now, three weeks after the deal was announced, the leadership of the rebel group is denying that a cease-fire was signed.
“We can’t say there’s a cease-fire yet,” Naw Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the Karen National Union, said.
“We still need to discuss the conditions.”
There have been no reports of clashes between Karen rebels and government troops in recent weeks. But the defiant stance of the Karen leadership appears to be a significant setback for the government’s efforts to end the grinding civil conflicts that have divided the country for decades.
Reconciliation with the country’s many armed ethnic groups has been one of the conditions that the United States and other western countries have put on Myanmar before economic sanctions are lifted. The day after the cease-fire announcement, US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton called the cease-fire an “important step forward” for the country. The confusion over the cease-fire remains murky and appears to be a mix of misunderstanding and backpedaling by the rebel group’s leadership.